Sarah Palin’s twisted family vacation (“Let’s load up the PAC-sponsored, ‘Restore America: Sarah Palin’ luxury bus, kids!”)has taken her from Washington, DC, up to New Hampshire, where she attended a barbeque the same day that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney announced his run for the White House a few towns over. It was on that day that she said:
"In my opinion, any mandate coming from government is not a good thing, so obviously ... there will be more the explanation coming from former governor, Romney, on his support for government mandates ... Even on a state level and even a local level, mandates coming from a governing body, it's tough for a lot of us independent Americans to accept, because we have great faith in the private sectors and our own families ... and our own businessmen and women making decisions for ourselves. Not any level of government telling us what to do."
Yesterday I finished reading Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, a book I picked up at an airport newsstand last week (the movie version is to be released this summer). The novel is set in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi, and it examines the relationship between black maids and the white families they serve. Miss Skeeter, an unsettled white twenty-something, returns home from college and seeks more than the domestic life her friends, perhaps reluctantly, have embraced. With the fond memories of her own family’s maid in her mind, and her inexplicable dismissal, Miss Skeeter sets out to capture the stories of maids across the city. She is not drawn in by the simmering civil rights movement, but because, unlike her friends and even her family, she is able to see these women as people, not the help. She sets out to tell the stories of love, abuse, racism, joy, and desperation that animate so many of the women’s lives.
The novel is told from many viewpoints, including insight from two maids, Abilene and Minny. The two friends approach life with vastly different outlooks, but both seethe at the injustice they read about in newspapers and experience on a very personal level, often at the hands of the women whose children they raise. Both women, seasoned by age and experience, marvel at the gains that black people begin to achieve in the sixties. In particular, the women talk at length about the federal order to integrate the state’s university and the dissolving barriers keeping blacks and whites from sharing the same restaurants and toilets.
The small government crowd can present compelling arguments and sometimes highlights troubling municipal, state, and federal waste. But the Tea Party infused rhetoric from a certain breed of Republicans in Congress and some who are running for the GOP nomination is a different sort of animal entirely. “Any mandate coming from government is not a good thing,” Palin says.
Government mandates have made our air and water safer. They have improved our transportation systems. Even today, jobs are created, workers are protected, and industries are saved.
To an entire class of marginalized, repressed, discriminated, and abused people, personalized by the characters of Minny and Abililene and several other maids in The Help, government mandates helped to make life a bit better, however slowly, small step by small step. Would the mandates alone have pushed society along a path toward fairness and justice? Of course not. The civil rights movement was largely a product of private citizens fighting injustice and changing the hearts and minds of their fellow citizens. But mandates from the government helped to codify those advances, and help to set the bar of acceptable attitudes and behaviors a bit higer.
Surely Sarah Palin was hyperbolizing (really, though, who knows?) when she dismissed any value that government mandates could offer society, but her rhetoric, and the rhetoric she inspires, is troubling. Seeking to make government efficient and effective is an admirable goal. Trying to demonize the legitimate role it plays in promoting the common good is quite another.
(h/t to Andrew Sullivan for the Quote of the Day).