Opinion

BIDLACK | There’s no news in good news — or in good government

Author: Hal Bidlack - June 12, 2018 - Updated: June 11, 2018

Bidlack.jpg
Hal Bidlack
Hal Bidlack

Did you hear the one about the time the government worked efficiently and made everyone happy? I’m betting not, but I strongly believe that government actually works pretty well for most people most of the time.

It’s common to assert that our elected officials and the bureaucracy they oversee are all a bunch of thieving incompetent crooks (and actually, it can’t really be both – if they are incompetent, they can’t really steal effectively, and if they are crooks, well, you get the point) who are only out to better themselves. I’ve long been a defender of people in government. Heck, I was one myself for over 25 years serving in the military, which is most definitely a part of government. I’m not saying for even a moment that the are not bad and/or wasteful things happening, but I argue that by and large, our public servants work very hard to do a good job for the people who pay their salaries.

Think back to your last visit to the traditionally horrible DMV, would you? I’m betting there was a wait, but I also had to wait for customer service the last time I went to Lowes. But when you left the DMV, I bet you had your plates or whatever you came for. The Department of Veterans Affairs has gotten a great deal of negative press in recent years, much of it deserved. When I was working for Senator Bennet I often worked cases for vets with issues with the VA. But overall, the VA regularly scores higher in quality of care than civilian hospitals. Problems? Absolutely, but overall the vast majority of vets are happy with their VA care. Of course, there are no protests held to declare how great a job someone is doing.

What government program leaps to mind for many when they think of waste and inefficiency? Welfare! But when you look at the basket of programs, often collectively called “welfare,” that provide a safe net for those at economic risk, you see something that I’m guessing my farther-to-the-right friends might not expect: most poor people who accept help from the government do, in fact, use it as a bridge to a better life, and are off welfare within three years. Nearly a third are back on their own two feet within a single year. So, welfare mostly works, but that’s not really a headline.

Which brings me, of course, to highways. Don’t you just love how I make dramatic and seemingly illogical transitions? (Editor: not really)

A recent story in Colorado Politics reported that the Colorado Department of Transportation had secured a big pot of money to improve two critical highways — $65 million for I-25 and another $25 million for work on I-70. If you’ve ever driven between Colorado Springs and Denver during rush hour (any time other than 3 a.m.), you’ve been frustrated when the highway drops from three lanes to two lanes for about 18 miles between Castle Rock and Colorado Springs. The federal money, along with state and local funding, will fix the problem by adding a third lane, so you won’t need to mind the gap much longer. The nice folks driving I-70 in Clear Creek County will also find an improved road, with 12 miles of shoulder lane added.

Why am I telling you about boring highway programs instead of focusing on Mr. Trump and the Democrats calling each other names? Because highway programs are a much better example of how your government works than is Mr. Trump’s musings on being above the law (sorry, had to get at least one partisan shot in there).

Simply put, most of the time, most of your representatives and government workers are doing a good job of cooperating for the good of the country and state. The highway funding was a result of lots and lots of cross-the-aisle cooperation. Congressman Doug Lamborn, known for arguing for very limited government and reduced federal spending, still found a way to work with Senators Bennet and Gardner to secure the funds to expand I-25. When I worked for Senator Bennet, my only orders from my boss were to work as hard as possible for veterans, and that often meant working with all the other congressional offices. Heck, I had Congressman Lamborn’s office on speed dial and we talked daily to coordinate our work on behalf of vets and military folks in need.

My point is (Editor: finally!) that while there are most certainly problems with government and there are absolutely bad apples working there, overall our government works pretty well in service of Americans. Can it be improved? Absolutely! But is it a cesspool of corruption and incompetence? Not at all. And if you disagree, please do write your Congress member. There is a 97 percent chance the Post Office will deliver your letter on time and to the right place.

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.