My inamorata and I have become fans of Donna Leon's Guido Brunetti novels. Brunetti is a commissario in the Venetian police. Married to a professor of English, with two children who grow up in the course of the books, he is quiet, sensitive and smart. He's often funny, too.
In one of the novels, Uniform Justice, Brunetti muses about the nature of Italy and other nations:
"He had read enough to know that there were countries whose citizens did not perceive their government as an inimical force, where they believed, instead, that the government existed to serve their needs and respond to their wishes. How would he react if someone he knew were to maintain that to be true here in this city, in this country? Religious mania would be less convincing proof of mental imbalance."
How long before Americans feel that way about our country? People under 35, that is most of those alive in the United States today, can hardly remember when government was not under attack, when the institutions that carried out the New Deal, won the Second World War and contained Communism when it really was a menace were not reviled and identified as the enemy of all right-thinking citizens.
What has this led to? There is the massive incompetence of the Bush administration, extending from Washington to New Orleans to Iraq and Afghanistan. Even more disturbing, however, is the hollowing-out of government. Where once we had a proud civil service that did, indeed, serve the American people, now we have agencies that are captive to the industries they are supposed to regulate (a trend that started before the Republican assault, but has been steadily accelerating) and bureaucracies that are--apart from the military and the security apparat--understaffed, starved of resources and low in morale (hardly surprising, given the poor repute in which the nation's leaders hold professional government workers). At the same time, a rampant, irrational and corrosive drive to privatize government functions has erected ever-higher barriers between public projects and the public.
It will take more than the election of a Democratic President to stop this. That president will have to make the reconstruction of competent, responsive government a central part of his or her program. Making government work may not sound exciting, but it will be necessary if we are to rebuild the government that was our pride when the nation was at its greatest.