Trusting in government
By Michael M. Bates
Call me a nervous Nellie – if anyone still uses that expression – but I find middle-of-the-night phone calls disquieting. So when my telephone rang at 4:19 early Sunday, an assortment of scenarios, none of them good, ran through my mind in the few seconds it took to answer.
It was a reverse 911 call from the village of Tinley Park. The message began by telling me not to hang up before the entire recording played. If I did, I'd be called back until I listened to the whole thing.
The message concerned a recent tragedy at a retail store in which five women were killed. I learned an intense investigation is underway, It was believed the person or persons responsible had fled the scene. If residents observed any suspicious persons or activity, they should contact the police. They should dial 911 if urgent assistance is required.
Additional police officers will be on patrol in the village. The town's thoughts and prayers are with the victims.
They woke residents up at 4:19 in the morning to communicate that critical information? Later in the day, I read that the village's mayor said making the calls, intended to advise "there was a problem but trying not to spread panic," would take four hours. Did that mean the calls began at midnight?
I contacted the village last Monday to find out. I was informed by a pleasant woman that there was some sort of system problem. The automatic calls should have stopped at 9:00 pm. That didn't happen for an undetermined reason. You know how computers can be.
OK, no big deal. I lost a little sleep and spent that quality time thinking some not too nice thoughts about area pols.
The incident reminded me that even the form of government closest to the people, the one most readily responsive to the public's will, doesn't always carry out its duties adequately. As we go up through the layers of government, to the county, the state, and the federal, responsiveness diminishes and mistakes multiply exponentially.
That's an underlying flaw of national health care proposals. Temporarily setting aside the not inconsequential question of whether such schemes are a legitimate function of government to begin with, the issue quickly moves to if Washington is capable of effectively running a program of that massive complexity.
Consider the experience of many other countries, most of them significantly smaller than the United States. For them, government medicine has meant reduced quality, delays, widespread abuse, special treatment for some and limited choices for most. The daily horror stories never end.
Then there's the coercion factor. Erstwhile Democratic candidate John Edwards admitted his health plan "requires that everybody be covered. It requires that everybody get preventive care." He went on: "You have to go in and be checked and make sure that you are OK." Get your physical or else.
Edwards said women would be forced to have regular mammograms. Mental health coverage was also included in his arrangement. Presumably, we'd have had to submit ourselves to regular sessions with a shrink to determine our emotional stability.
Senator Hillary has, as befits a Clinton, been cagier on the topic of how she'd force everyone into her one-size-fits-all approach to health care. The other day she cracked a little and allowed that "we will have an enforcement mechanism, whether it's that (garnishing wages) or it's some other mechanism through the tax system or automatic enrollments."
Senator Obama's plan would not mandate participation - for adults. Parents, however, would be forced to sign their children up. Garnishment and other coercive methods, methods much more unnerving than a mere threat to keep calling back if you don't listen to the entire recording, will inevitably be necessary.
Universal health care will be administered with all the efficiency of the Postal Service and the warmth and compassion of the IRS. We'll get what a majority of us seemingly want and by the time we understand what a blunder it all is, it'll be too late.
Responsive as always, Washington will ignore demands the system be scrapped and instead offer comprehensive reforms that aren't comprehensive and don't reform. When we complain more, the explanation won't be as simple as it was all just a computer glitch.
The reality is government frequently can't be trusted to handle even small tasks. Yet many of us have faith that it can be trusted to at all times protect our lives and health. That confidence is misplaced.
This Michael Bates column appeared in the February 7, 2008 Reporter Newspapers.