by Larry Butler
Wife Carol and I travel around the country in our motorhome, carrying our motorcycle with us to tour the best roads on the continent. We recently rode a section of the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina and Virginia. The BRP is an old friend we've visited several times over the past nine years. This time, though, we were saddened by the condition of this beautiful road.
The National Park Service administers the parkway, providing law enforcement, manning campgrounds, visitor centers, and other facilities over its 469-mile length. Over the past four years, the NPS budget has been cut nearly 14%, even with increasing responsibility for additional sites throughout the US. It's no surprise that this particular national treasure is deteriorating. Many of the visitor centers are closed, and exhibits in the rest are falling into disrepair. Shoulders are becoming overgrown. Some rest rooms and trailheads are closed. The roadway is littered with cracks and potholes that require constant attention to ensure safe passage. And the roadway is completely closed in places, pending the commencement of long-awaited repairs.
Since the eighties, Grover Norquist has been promoting small government. All he wants is his freedom, his guns, and no taxes. He once quipped that the federal government should be small enough to be drowned in a bathtub. He could be written off as just another wacky crackpot, except that he authored the "no tax" pledge -- signed by virtually all new Republican representatives -- that heralded the emergence of the radical right just a few years ago. This is the big-money movement that precipitated the sequestration that has cost the US economy $1.5 trillion so far, the shutdown that cost $24 billion, and another round of sequestration expected soon -- all in the name of the fight to defend tax breaks for the wealthy and their corporations.
Small government isn't a bad thing, but America is becoming the biggest third-world economy on the planet. This is what the current vision of small government looks like, and the NPS is just the beginning. Government functions established to protect equal opportunity or promote the common good are all threatened. Many of us value education, an unspoiled environment, safe foods, fair elections, pure science, free markets, and even sound roads and bridges -- and we recognize that government is the instrument by which these are most effectively accomplished.
America needs a new movement -- one that recognizes the need for right sized government. One that has the courage to simplify and rationalize the tax code. One that champions people rather than money. One that will strike a balance between individual rights and corporate interests. America needs a movement that is willing to stand up for a government that represents real people.
Unprecedented concentration of wealth has done less than nothing for the middle class or the unemployed, or for the National Park system. Ken Burns might join us in shedding a tear for the disgraceful condition of these national treasures.