Robert Reich, former secretary of labor, was once asked after his departure from government to reflect on the transition. He is alleged to have said this: “Certainly at that level of government, it’s a dog-eat-dog world. On the other hand, after leaving government, I find that it’s just the opposite.” I’m guessing that Reich’s hidden meaning is simply that nothing in life is easy. Amen to that.
I’m not quite sure how that Reich story wormed its way back into my head except to say that it was probably at one of those unsettling moments when I was once again discouraged by how broken governance seems to have become in America and how absent our collective ambition is to be the leading world economy and democracy. Leadership aside, we the people must own up to some of that dysfunction.
Exhibit one would have to be the pandemic. When in the course of human events in America have we not risen up resolutely as a nation to defeat a common enemy? And yet, we seem more inclined to squabble over who’s at fault, what government should or should not do, and the role of science in considering the right pathway to defeat and heal this pervasive enemy.
Exhibit number two. The stark realization that our world is burning up doesn’t seem to have inspired our political leadership to unite us as a nation around common cause to secure the planet for future generations.
Exhibit number 3. Politics appear to have devolved into team sport. My team, right or wrong, my team.
Exhibit number 4. The sad fact of governing chaos in Washington, D.C.
But in the midst of all these straight-forward exhibits, I see the possibility of opportunity. My hope floats on the same kind of ideals that were evidenced in FDR’s National Reconstruction Act. To be clear, the NRA was imperfect, but it rallied the country around a common cause for improvement, to pull a nation on its heels out of the great depression that had peaked in 1933. We need an NRA Act II.
Right now, we have a tremendous opportunity to put folks who have lost their jobs back to work with fundamental and long overdue infrastructure projects. And with the future upon us and American innovation and ingenuity to lift us, we can expand job opportunities with the development of and enactment of renewable energy projects. Elon Musk has almost singlehandedly demonstrated what private-sector innovation can do together with smart government support in space exploration (SpaceX), battery innovation and plug-in vehicles (Tesla), solar energy (SolarCity), and high-speed frictionless transportation (Hyperloop).
FDR put it this way: “We can wonder what our descendants will think about us. Let us at least hope that they will give us the benefit of the doubt, that they will believe that we have honestly striven in our day and our generation to preserve for our descendants a decent land to live in and a decent form of government to operate under… Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.”
Pivoting away from Robert Reich’s “dog-eat-dog world,” it’s been absolutely amazing in the midst of this bedeviling and economically challenging pandemic that along with our first responders, nurses and doctors, dogs have emerged as genuine heroes. It’s really no surprise that dog adoptions are up. They have proven to be one of the most successful stress relieving palliatives of the pandemic. But what’s truly amazing is that maybe the fastest way to test for COVID-19 is the dog-smell test. Wait time? Somewhere between a dog’s breath and a biscuit! Beyond COVID-19, these best friends of mankind have also learned to smell test for certain cancers, infections, diseases like malaria, diabetes, and Parkinson’s… non-invasively if you don’t mind a lick on the lips.
As president Truman once said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” Seriously in need of D.C. progress, maybe we should pack Congress with a pack of these four-legged friends. They can smell a “swamp” from miles away.
Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, an author, and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.