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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Governor/Government – Get it?

After moderator Martha Raddatz separated the contenders in the second presidential debate of 2012, Mitt Romney used the brief silence to twice mutter, “Government doesn’t create jobs. Government doesn’t create jobs.”


Of course government creates jobs. It always has. The fundamental function of government is protection, and that inherently involves a paid police force and military. Indeed, the guy who is seeking to be commander-in-chief will be a government employee. Romney was a government employee when he was governor of Massachusetts. Governor/government – get it?

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To put this in context, government was the sole employer in the earliest areas of what became the United States. Florida’s St. Augustine, settled in 1565, is the oldest city in the US, and six unsuccessful expeditions preceded it. All were funded by and commanded by the Spanish government based in Havana. The soldiers and would-be settlers (including women) who went on these voyages were, in effect, government employees.

The same was true elsewhere. Historians have especially specific detail on several hundred people who went overland from Mexico City to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1598. The government supplied that trip down to the last ounce of cornmeal and beans – and the record exists partly because a black woman went to court and successfully argued that she did not receive her fair share.

These settlements were in no way individualism or democratic. They were theocracies, as church and state were the same, and non-Catholics were subject to the death penalty. The appointed military commander also was the governor. He was the ultimate CEO, and everyone’s pay came from the Spanish treasury. The model was the same from Florida in the 1500s to California in the early 1800s.

Protestant settlements in New England also were theocracies: indeed, Boston Puritans executed Mary Dyer in 1660 for the crime of preaching Quakerism. New England did offer somewhat more economic freedom, but again, think of Boston Common. The very word means land held in common, a pasture for the use of all – or common/communist.

Americans like to think of themselves as rugged individualists, but most early colonists came in groups that were subsidized by some entity back in Europe. New Amsterdam, later New York, offered the greatest economic and religious freedom, but even there, Governor Peter Stuyvesant would be considered a dictator today.

* * *

And again, government employment was more prevalent then than now. Although New York would become the heart of entrepreneurship, its very first building was a house for the colony’s midwife, constructed by the government that recruited her. She was at the beginning of a very long line of governmental health professionals.

Government employment did not go away with the American Revolution – nor did the Founding Fathers intend that it should. Their intentions were, in fact, so different from modern Tea Partiers that I sometimes wonder if those who love to portray themselves as loyal to the Constitution ever actually have read the document. Its very first sentence says:

“We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

“A more perfect Union” is its first-named goal – and yet right-wingers take pride in damning the federal government that unites us.

It next vows to “establish justice” – and how is that done without government employees in law enforcement and the judiciary? Would anyone even consider a private system of justice, with private police, prosecutors, and judges? Well, maybe yes – those who think that the Ku Klux Klan can do a fine job of administering justice. Those who think that they can afford private security guards for their homes and businesses, and the rest of the world can descend into chaos.

“To insure domestic tranquility” and “to provide for the common defense” repeat the commitment to protect the weak from the strong, a promise that is at the root of democracy and the most fundamental reason why government exists. The next phrase, though, is not often emphasized: to promote the general welfare. Yes, Congress and the president do have a constitutional basis when they pass laws creating all those other government jobs.

We need those jobs to rein in the human tendency to greed, to protect both customers and competitors in commerce. We need federal employees who keep milk from being diluted with chalk and water, which was routine before the FDA; we need highway engineers and safety experts who have insisted on seatbelts and other standards, greatly reducing deaths per mile; we need health authorities who have wiped out major diseases -- and who could do more with more money. We need the teachers, librarians, firefighters, and countless other public employees who promote the general welfare. Most work hard for relatively little pay, and it is indisputable that government created these jobs.

And then there are millions more whose jobs are dependent on government contracts. Could Boeing build bombers without getting checks from the Defense Department? Look around, and you will see that virtually all of so-called private enterprise has at least one major customer or client that is a government entity.

It’s true on the local level, too. The biggest employers here are MacDill Air Force Base, the University of South Florida, Hillsborough Community College, the school board, the city and county governments, and Tampa General Hospital (which, because people took to the streets on the issue, remained public when privatizers would have held a fire sale to benefit profiteers).

Our genuine need of non-profit agencies to take care of us in times of disaster was on full display the days before the election, with an unprecedented storm on the East Coast. From when Hurricane Sandy was predicted by meteorologists employed by the federal government on through decisions about airports and Amtrak, as well as many other aspects of emergency management, it was largely government employees who put their personal lives on hold and accepted the real risks of dealing with the storm.

Yet during the primary campaign, before he morphed into Moderate Mitt, Romney had suggested that FEMA might be eliminated, turned over to the states or maybe privatized. He didn’t repeat that after Sandy hit, but he nonetheless refused to answer questions from reporters about FEMA. It brings to mind “heck of a job, Brownie,” Dubya’s infamous comment as Katrina destroyed New Orleans. He, too, practiced a political philosophy that frequently degraded government employees and lauded budget cutting as the highest possible goal. And if he couldn’t abolish such agencies, he appointed a loser to head them.

Sandy did us a favor in sending a pertinent reminder that government exists to do those things that we cannot do alone. None of us ever are truly individualists. We need each other – and we need those jobs created by government. Like too many others of his ilk, Mitt Romney has simply memorized a catechism. He repeats his dogma thoughtlessly, never checking on the hard-won history or even the modern facts. He is not a practical businessman, but instead is an ideologist, robotically repeating what he’s been told all his life -- and a huge contrast to a president who has truly lived a life of genuine experience.

Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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