Friday, October 19, 2007

Government Best at Local Level

(From the October 11, 2007 Grand Haven Tribune)

It would be easy to be disenchanted with government of late.

In Washington the two dominant political parties seem more intent on scoring political points than in actually serving the people they represent. We have senators and representatives better known for their “wide stance” in airport bathrooms and cash in their freezers than for sponsoring any significant bills. When they do pass legislation, it seems padded with riders and earmarks that pat the backs and line the pockets of friends.

In Lansing we recently witnessed a long and bitter battle over the budget. Sure, there may have been sound and principled ideological perspectives that had state politicians pulling all-nighters to debate the budget. It was the old cut spending versus raise taxes dialectic. But there was a lot of partisan positioning going on too, a lot of posturing for the next election versus serving the people who voted for them in the last one. Even with a passed budget that prevented an extended government shutdown, there is lots of uncertainty about state policies and finances. The only certain thing is that there will be more bickering and rhetoric. No wonder some have called for a part-time state legislature. And, while I can look forward to paying more state taxes, I will not see any direct benefit of more being ‘rendered unto Ceaser.’ No wonder the tax collectors were always the bad guys in Jesus’ parables.

But I got to thinking recently about that old expression “all politics is local.” I could amend that to say that government is at its best at the local level. At least you tend to see a more tangible benefit of having government. Here at the township level I am witnessing the provisions of government that are as fundamental as in the time of the Roman Empire—water and roads.

No, there are no aqueducts being built. But I did stumble across the annual drinking water report from the North Ottawa Water System. My goodness, there’s a lot of chemistry involved. The municipal system checks out water thoroughly, monitoring for all sorts of ingredients, and reporting quantities in parts per million or even billion. It was no doubt impressive when Jesus turned water into wine. But it seems almost miraculous that local water supply is checked for lead, copper, arsenic and selenium, not to mention other things that are hard to say or even type after a long day.

It’s easy to take a lot of this for granted. But it’s a painful fact known to any who have traveled overseas or pay attention to international news that a significant portion of the world population does not have clean water. I used to work for an international mission agency whose staff included several missionaries in Africa who spent most of their time drilling wells. Seems simple to us, but in some countries in Africa there isn’t good equipment to get through bedrock and bring up clean water from an earthen aquifer. I was reminded of this recently while reading National Geographic and seeing photos of families crowded together in make-shift shacks, doing their cooking and bathing in the same fetid pool of water. Consequently, many get diseases that could be avoid but for clean water. Meanwhile, we can go to our faucets, fill a glass and take a drink without fear. That’s pretty significant. I’m grateful the stuff coming out of my tap doesn’t contain any stuff I can’t pronounce.

It does make me laugh about this bottled water craze. People of larger wallets and lesser minds, who are susceptible to fashion, lug around their bottles of “Fuji” and “Ice Mountain” or “Aquafina.” They’ll insist it’s cleaner, tastes better and so on. Bunk. I’ve seen more than a few tests that show tap water from an average city system is more healthy than many bottled waters (some of which, by the way, are pumped out of the ground just a few counties north of here). It’s why I laugh when I see a bottle of “Evian” and remember that the brand name is nothing more than “na├»ve” spelled backwards. My wife and I, avid runners, drink lots of water every day. We have empty water bottles we saved from previous road races and fill them up with tap water and store them in the fridge. Delicious. Refreshing. Healthy. Free. Government water. Our tax dollars at work.

And if that’s not enough, the local government just started repaving the roads in my neighborhood. We had noticed a sudden, rapid decline in the road surface. Cracks became ruts, which became craters. But they’re on it. After waiting a few months, crews showed up one morning recently and started scraping the road, preparing it for repaving. Soon, my returns from work into the neighborhood will not be an obstacle course. I wouldn’t say I live on easy street, but at least the street I live on will be smooth again soon.

So there you have it—water and roads. These are things we take for granted, but which are are rarely well supplied in many parts of the world. So I am grateful for government in this regard. God bless America. At least my part of it.