Government lessons

Farm Forum

Everybody talks about the government but no one ever does anything about it.

This is simply human nature, I suppose. It’s a lot easier to criticize something than it is to change it. At least that’s the strategy I used when our kids were babies.

“What’s this?” asked my wife one day. She was referring to a shoebox with a slot cut into its lid that had suddenly appeared on the kitchen table.

“It’s a suggestion box,” I replied. “You know, a place where people can anonymously make suggestions or voice complaints.”

She opened the box and read the lone scrap of paper it contained.

“It says ‘the baby smells funky.’”

“I think that’s more of a complaint than a suggestion,” I pointed out helpfully.

“Oh, for…! If the baby is smelly, why didn’t you just change his diaper?”

“I would, but that’s the responsibility of the Department of Disposable Infant Undergarments. I considered doing something about it, but it’s a lot easier to complain about the shortfalls of the system than to change things.”

A moment later I learned that it can be extremely painful when someone attempts to forcefully shove a shoebox into your ear. So while change is often distressing, resisting change can also be quite uncomfortable. Even so, considering the alternative, I still would have preferred to have my ear boxed.

But back to the government. Before you begin crying at the top of your lungs for change, it might behoove you to understand how things work. For instance, I once approached a state legislator and demanded that the government ban the word “unthaw.”

“It drives me crazy when I hear people use that word!” I exclaimed. “Don’t they realize that ‘unthaw’ would imply the opposite of ‘thaw?’ So if a guy says ‘I need to unthaw the cattle fountain,’ it would mean that he wants to freeze it! All you really need to say is ‘thaw!’”

The legislator guy informed me that this likely wouldn’t fly, mumbling something about the First Amendment. Typical spineless politician! Cowering behind some entrenched and obscure statute!

In an effort to mold us into informed citizens, our high school Government class took us on a field trip to the state capital when I was a junior. The legislature was in session and the goal was that we would somehow – I believe osmosis was mentioned — learn something from the experience.

The first thing I learned from the Government field trip was that a busload of teenagers is ungovernable. Any semblance of our teacher’s plan for the field trip disintegrated as soon as our boots hit the ground at the capital.

Within moments we had scattered to the far reaches of the capitol building. We lurched down long hallways and meandered up marble stairs. We rode prehistoric elevators that rattled and groaned ominously, sharing the lift with men in suits. Were they high-powered elected officials? Supreme court justices? Or just overdressed high school field trippers? We neither knew nor cared.

At one point, my pals and I stumbled into a gallery that overlooks the Senate. Or maybe it was the House.

Below us, we could see Democracy In Action. It mostly consisted of inaction: the few legislators who were at their desks were reading newspapers or yakking with their neighbor. One guy was resting his eyes, chin on his chest. Legislative pages sauntered through the chamber, doling out paperwork. Smoke wafted lazily upwards from scattered stogie aficionados while some guy in a pulpit at the front of the room droned on and on. It was enough put a hyperactive hummingbird into a coma.

If this is what it’s like to be an instrument of change, no wonder so few pursue the job!

We wanted to avoid being bored to death by the lawmaking process, so we swiftly moved on. Some snooping uncovered a narrow stairway that led to the upper reaches of the capitol’s dome. There, a window provided a sweeping vista of Lake Oahe and the dusky bluffs of the Missouri. Countless Canada geese strolled the lawn and bobbed on Capitol Lake. Their “calling cards” dotted the area.

Having heard rumors regarding a flaming hot spring, we klumped back down the approximately 5,000 steps and out onto the grounds. And there it was! A bubbling fountain of hot water with a perpetual flame dancing upon it!

After studying the phenomena for a long moment, someone asked, “Where do you suppose all that heat and all that gas comes from?”

“I don’t know for sure,” I said. “But I bet they pipe it out here from the Senate. Or the House.”

If you’d like to contact Jerry to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can e-mail him at: