Government Working

A few thoughts on the word ‘work’

There are few words in the English language that lend themselves more to disparate interpretations than ‘work.’ It’s been on my radar recently, first with a prescient line from former Connecticut Republican Congressman Christopher Shays. Recently he was interviewed by MSNBC’s rehabilitated Brian Williams on “11th Hour” program. Lamenting the current state of government, Shays said, “we have a lot of young people who have never seen the country work well.” This came from a Republican, albeit one of the dinosaur northeastern moderate ones.

In essence, his remark confirms that a series of short-term grid-lock and starve-the-beast wins by Republicans have led to a true long-term victory.

In the world governing, the word ‘works’ means a great deal. There always has been a line of thinking among voters that they really don’t care about the ideas of the candidates; all they care about is if they can “get things done.” Perhaps the last president elected who came from that perspective was Dwight Eisenhower, initially voted into office in 1952.

Even though his successor, John F. Kennedy, was in many ways a pragmatist, this was dismissed by many Republicans who saw him as an elitist “do-gooder,” a complaint that resonates even more now among conservatives about many Democrats. It was in 1964 that the Republican Party nominated Barry Goldwater to be their presidential candidate and ever since, their nominees have had to be strict ideologues (with the exception of the “accidental president,” Gerald Ford in 1976). But since Goldwater, the sentiments of so many Republicans have been so anti-government that they have adopted the strategy of doing whatever it takes to prevent it from working. This is the foundation of Christopher Shay’s observation that “we have a lot of young people wo have never seen the country work well.” Regrettably, that will continue until progressives Democrats become president and the majorities in both houses of Congress. We are currently some time from that, meaning that it will be a while before young people have the experience that may baby-boomers did of the excitement and accomplishments of the Kennedy Administration and the domestic agenda of Lyndon Johnson.

The second encounter with the word “work” that I recently had was while reading a detective story from Ireland. The lead detective used a term I had not previously heard. She referenced two powerful segments of the population, those who are of the working class, and those of the “never-worked class.”

The last term is most interesting because it could mean so many different kinds of people. It might be the very wealthy who never have had cause to work. It could be people with disabilities who may not be able to work. It could be those who are disparagingly called lazy. Some of these people may simply not want to work; others may not work because they never learned the skills to either function in a job or to make it through the application process.

Whatever the reasons might be why someone is not working, the fact remains that for a society to function, for it to work, we need a critical mass of people who work. Often times that means that we need more people doing the “heaving lifting” and fewer people doing the commenting (as I am doing now).

These are tough questions. I long for the time when America has enough workers who are focused in purpose, in part because we have a government that works.