Above: Now, here's a State of the Union for you.
But, like Barack Obama the night before, the governor of Utah made the politically astute decision to open his annual status report by associating himself with the parts of government that exist, as the saying goes, to break things and kill people.
So the commander in chief of all United States armed forces got to launch, and close, his State of the Union speech the other night by waxing properly proud about the efforts of, and sacrifices by, U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and, for one night only, Abbottabad.
Herbert’s State of the State began with a wholly appropriate moment of respect for Utahns who served, and six who died, in Afghanistan last year, as well as for the Ogden police officer felled in the line of duty just the other week.
After that, their paths diverged.
Presidents have been known to use the bravery and sacrifice of others to make themselves look bigger and bolder. The point being that we will then be more likely to trust them with still more power or, at least, another year’s worth of tax money.
When one arm of the federal government is risking life and limb to protect you from, oh, Germans, Japanese, Russians, Chinese, Vietnamese, Afghans or Iranians, then we might be more interested in that same government protecting us from, say, tainted food, crooked investment schemes, polluting industries, racial supremacists. And, sometimes, from state and local officials who would be in league with any or all of the above.
Herbert had a more difficult needle to thread. Officials at all levels can do nothing other than wrap themselves in the flag — the American flag — when it comes to notions of bravery on the battlefield. But when the conversation turns to just about anything else, conservative thinking does not allow that same federal government to be portrayed as the cavalry come to the rescue. It has to be the wolf at the door.
All that American Exceptionalism stuff that conservatives supposedly adhere to suddenly becomes Federal Hegemony.
Wednesday’s State of the State was the second such address from Herbert that might have been subtitled "Don’t tread on me." He used large chunks of his TV time both years to call out the federal government for having become an overreaching, interfering, usurping, nationalizing behemoth that he is pledged to stand against.
When, that is, it isn’t sending him billions of dollars [see figure 5] in disaster aid, education aid, transportation aid, and three dollars in Medicaid spending for every dollar of state match .
Of course, every governor should stand up for his or her state’s prerogatives, for each state’s ability to see to its own business in ways that suit its needs and the wants of its constituents. That’s how a federal system, designed to blunt the accumulation of power and allow the best ideas to percolate to the top, is supposed to work.
Part of the problem is that the very word "government" carries a meaning that centers on being mean to people. The point of all these checks and balances is to make sure it is only mean to people who have it coming. Which, by definition, is them, not you.
We need another term for all the functions that are more benign, supportive, constructive and collaborative — and less easily used by state politicians to shift the focus away from their own failings and onto some distant bureaucracy.
Something like, oh, say, "civilization."
George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, is better known for breaking rules and killing time. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him via Twitter, @debatestate.
|1.||A first: GOP lawmaker calls for Utah A.G. John Swallow to resign|
|2.||Police tracked Josh Powell by plane, wiretapped his phone|
|3.||Burt Bacharach opens up on daughter’s suicide|
|4.||Weekend Express: 11 things to do in Utah on Memorial Day weekend|
|6.||Tuacahn gears up for three outdoor plays, one indoor production|
|7.||Planes, trains and orangutans: 12 distinctly Utah things to do this summer|
|8.||Secret recording: Mark Shurtleff offers $2 million to silence critic|
|9.||Does Costco save you money?|
|10.||Hiding the truth from a 5-year-old|