James Werrell

Watch out for that nasty government

Starting tomorrow, the federal highway system will be privatized.

The government will cease all maintenance of existing highways and will build no new ones. People may band together to maintain pieces of the interstate that run in front of their homes or businesses, and they may charge motorists who use those roads a few bucks to recoup the expense of upkeep. So, we may end up with a patchwork system of privately managed toll roads crisscrossing the nation.

What? You don't think that's such a good idea? What are you, some kind of socialist?

That, apparently, is what the junior senator from South Carolina would call you. Jim DeMint, addressing a law enforcement audience in York Wednesday, said he knows of no federal program that has ever worked well. And he assailed Democrats for pursuing socialist policies.

DeMint, it seems, abides by the Grover Norquist philosophy. Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, famously stated that his goal was to shrink government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

This is the philosophy that espouses the gospel that anything having to do with "big government" is bad, that tax cuts, privatization and personal enterprise will fix everything. Anyone who says otherwise should consider moving to Sweden.

DeMint's distaste for government includes the body in which he serves. He said Wednesday that the U.S. Congress is as dysfunctional as the one we are propping up in Baghdad.

In short, DeMint appears to believe the federal government is worthless. Can we assume, then, that he has no use for programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, school lunches for poor children, the Veterans Administration, the FBI, the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Postal Service, the Border Patrol, Pell Grants or any of those other wasteful federal boondoggles?

He probably would not have endorsed the GI Bill, the rural electrification program or the Marshall Plan. He almost certainly would not have voted for Social Security and no doubt is among those who now would like to privatize it.

Granted, many federal programs are less than perfect. Many could be tweaked to reflect changing needs. But let's not forget that Social Security was established to address the national problem of millions of senior citizens who found themselves with no money for food, clothing or shelter. Do we really want to return to the days when grandma could lose her home and have to move to the "poor farm"?

DeMint's anti-government rants may play well in parts of South Carolina. But it seems likely that a majority of Americans are growing tired of this old song and are looking to government for some help. Americans are beginning to realize that government does some things right and that, in fact, the federal government may be better equipped to handle some problems than the forces of a free marketplace.

Why, for example, do Americans continue to pay more for health care and get less for their money than citizens in nations with universal health care, which includes most nations in the industrialized world? The presidential candidate who comes up with the best answer to that problem is likely to score big with voters next year.

DeMint's dysfunctional Congress is preparing to pass, with bipartisan support, a bill that would expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, to cover 8 to 9 million children who have no health coverage at all. This is a state-federal partnership in which the federal government matches state contributions.

Most of the children who qualify for SCHIP are covered by private insurers contracted by the states. The bill would cover added costs by raising the national cigarette tax.

President Bush has threatened to veto this bill. He vilifies it as the first step toward "government-run health care."

There it is again, that nasty government, threatening to provide health insurance for children. Why not just let them go to emergency rooms when they get sick? What's so great about preventive care, anyway?

The free market has done a wonderful job of making good, affordable health care available to anyone who wants it, right, Sen. DeMint?