Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The business of government

Former President Calvin Coolidge, who did not say much, is perhaps best known for saying, "The business of government is business."
Considering the mess that having government composed of so many businessmen is doing to the United States and to Missouri, perhaps another famous Calvin Coolidge quote, changed around a bit is more appropriate.
That quote comes from Lena Lamont, the silent film actress in Gene Kelly's musical classic, "Singing in the Rain." Ms. Lamont, played memorably by Jean Hagen, said "I make more money than Calvin Coolidge put together."
Perhaps what we need on both the state and national level is government that shows more compassion than Calvin Coolidge put together.
In Missouri, we have seen a pro-business legislature pretty much dismantle the Medicaid program, cutting thousands off the rolls. Businesswise, this seems to be good policy, but how can we write off human beings?
We have watched one person after another appointed to top positions by Governor Matt Blunt whose main qualification, sometimes sole qualification, is that they showed the ability to raise money for his election. This includes one woman, as chronicled in The Turner Report and elsewhere, who actually had a criminal conviction for embezzlement in Illinois.
On the national level, the appointment of an unqualified business associate of the president to the position of head of FEMA has proven disastrous to the Bush administration.
While we should always be looking for ways to cut government waste, government cannot be operated like a business. Consider how many businesses are operated these days. The main concern is stockholders' immediate dividends, even if that means cutting quality or cutting jobs. We cannot operate a government like that. We cannot decide that some people need to be sacrificed for the good of a privileged few.
If we were to follow the same policy in education that is followed in most areas of Missouri and national government these days, the program would be called "Some Children Left Behind" and we would have our officials telling us that education spending was out of control and taking up most of our budget. People who came to the legislature or to Congress to complain would be called troublemakers and God help any education-challenged kids who might show up at a movie theater when Sen. Gary Nodler was present.
Government has to be a mixture of people. You have to have people with business savvy, but you also have to have people who have a vision beyond the bottom line. That vision seems to be missing in Missouri and on the national level.
At the beginning of this post, I quoted from "Singing in the Rain." Another old movie, "Executive Suite," tells how America can be saved. In that movie, Fredric March was the businessman who believed in putting out cheap products in order to improve the bottom line and cutting on research and development because it costs too much.
William Holden opposed March and ended the movie by winning the CEO position by noting how shortsighted March's policies were. In the short run, the company thrives, but down the road, the company dies, because it did not invest for its future.
In government, that investment is the people. Unfortunately, our government is composed of too many Fredric Marches and not enough William Holdens.


Anonymous said...

Nicely written opinion piece, Mr. Turner. Additionally, in straight reporting, you seem to outshine much if not most of the Globe's reporting, although they seem to have a couple of talented reporters in McCoy and Wells. Ms. Redden seems like a nice person but disinclined to "speak truth to power."

Anonymous said...

Just a historical correction: Calvin Coolidge never said "the business of government is business". That's a historical myth.

kcdad said...

"The business of government is to organize the common interest against the special interests."

Woodrow Wilson 1912

Too bad, we all know Silent Cal's quip.

Unknown said...

"The business of government is to organize the common interest against the special interests."
THAT is unnecessarily full of the negative ! . I suggest THIS :
"The business of government is to facilitate the common interest with that of the special interests to the optimum advantage of BOTH interests."
The result is the maximum attainable SUSTAINABLE prosperity in the given situation with the least negative consequences for all.