Tuesday’s Quotes – June 13, 2017

“The people are what matter to government, and a government should aim to give all people under its jurisdiction the best possible life.”

— Frances Perkins

France Perkins is probably not a name most of us recognize. Few Cabinet members, excluding Hamilton and Franklin (& they are remembered primarily for not being Cabinet members), can be named by most of us while they are still in office – never mind decades, or centuries, later.

Very long life story made very short – Frances Perkins was Secretary of Labor under President Franklin Roosevelt. She has the distinction of being the longest-serving Secretary of Labor, 12 years, and the first female appointed to a Cabinet level position. Already active in lobbying efforts for better working conditions in New York in 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire pushed her to leave her teaching position to pursue a career in politics. In her capacity as Labor Secretary, she was instrumental to the success of most of the policies enacted during FDR’s tenure – many of which we still benefit from today.

On this, the 151st anniversary of the founding of the Department of Labor, it seemed reasonable to dust this quote off (my first Tuesday’s quote, in fact) because it is particularly apropos given our current climate in Washington. So many politicians seem to be jumping over themselves to prove that they are better than the next guy at slashing & burning government. They seem to have forgotten that in order to be a government ‘Of the People, By the People, For the People’, we have to actually support the PEOPLE. The average workers. Not the large corporations that have proven trickle-down economics to be a failure, not the mega-wealthy campaign donors who would like to have themselves, their corporations, and their trusts, pay an ever decreasing share of the expenses of running the society under which they’ve thrived.

A society is a construct that exists to benefit and support its members. A government exists to codify that support (because human beings have largely proven that anarchy is unworkable). So yes, even in a capitalist based economic system, the government has the obligation to put in place controls – such as minimum wage laws, child labor laws, environmental protection – and also to levy taxes to maintain the infrastructure that we all take for granted – roads, bridges, public use lands. And to provide assistance to those in need – disability income, basic healthcare.

It seems that we, as a nation, have forgotten basic Civics, and missed or mis-read most of the Constitution, and have allowed ourselves to be swayed by those that that have exploited our fears (of ‘Big Brother’, of having our beliefs trampled by people who believe differently, of our lost jobs being given to – or taken by – ‘foreigners’) into ceding power to those who have already proven themselves capable of all of the above on both the national & state levels.

We seem to have lost sight of the purpose government.

This is common sense. It’s our civic duty. It’s about being a responsible member of society, and demanding no less of our elected representatives.

But most of all, it is about being a good human.

 

Sunrise over the Hudson, July 2013.

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