GOVERNMENT SUCCESSES RARELY GET ATTENTION

ABSTRACT: There are many examples of successful government programs and initiatives but they rarely get much attention in the media or among the public. On the other hand, government failures or shortcomings get lots of attention. The media, and in particular right wing talk radio and Fox, along with “conservative” and libertarian politicians, fan the flames of supposed government failure at every opportunity.

Remember the Ebola crisis of last fall? The right wing media and politicians severely criticized the government for not reacting appropriately, stated that government could not be trusted to handle the situation, and predicted an epidemic here in the U.S. There was no epidemic here. The few patients were treated in facilities funded, designed, and/or supported by our government with great success. However, this success of government policies and facilities got very little attention or acknowledgement.

As another example, the largely successful U.S. government’s response to the 2008 financial debacle almost certainly prevented a worldwide depression. It softened the recession here and put the U.S. on a better track toward recovery than has happened in Europe. However, the government got little credit for keeping us out of a depression or a much worse recession.

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), tens of millions of people now have health insurance who didn’t before. Many of these families are now avoiding financial distress and bankruptcy due to medical bills because they have health insurance. The ACA has probably contributed to the slowing of the increase in health care costs and it clearly hasn’t generated the runaway inflation in health care costs that its critics predicted. Despite the tangible and significant successes of the ACA, the media coverage of it is largely negative as is a large portion of the public’s perception of it.

FULL POST: There are many examples of successful government programs and initiatives, but they rarely get much attention in the media or among the public. On the other hand, government failures or shortcomings get lots of attention; they are blasted across the headlines and blared out by talk radio and social media. [1] It seems that every member of the public has a story of a government failure on the tip of his or her tongue, but has a hard time identifying something positive to say about government.

The media, and in particular right wing talk radio and Fox, along with “conservative” and libertarian politicians, fan the flames of supposed government failure at every opportunity (including contrived ones). From President Reagan’s statement that government isn’t the solution it’s the problem to today’s Tea Party and the undermine-President-Obama-at-any-cost Republicans, denigrating government is in the forefront of these politicians’ political strategy.

Remember the Ebola crisis of last fall? The right wing media and politicians severely criticized the government for not reacting appropriately, stated that government could not be trusted to handle the situation, and predicted an epidemic here in the U.S. Fear mongering ran rampant. But what happened? There was no epidemic here; every one of the small handful of people who contracted the disease in the U.S. recovered, along with a number of others with the disease who were evacuated to the U.S. from Africa. Patients were treated in facilities funded, designed, and/or supported by our government. However, this success of government policies and facilities got very little attention or acknowledgement. The critics didn’t apologize and admit they were wrong, let alone thank the government for a job well-done. The media didn’t cover this success with anywhere near the attention it gave to the criticism and fear mongering.

As another example, the largely successful U.S. government’s response to the 2008 financial debacle, caused by irresponsible behavior by large Wall Street corporations, almost certainly prevented a worldwide depression. The bailout of the financial corporations prevented a full blown collapse of the financial sector worldwide. The economic stimulus bill, formally the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, created about 3 million jobs and kept the unemployment rate 2% lower than it would have been according to most economists. (See my blog post of 9/13/12 for more detail.) It accomplished this despite political opposition that limited the dollar amount of the stimulus and, consequently, its beneficial effects. Nonetheless, it softened the recession here and put the U.S. on a better track toward recovery than has happened in Europe. The slow but steady recovery has also been supported by the policies of the Federal Reserve.

However, the government got little credit for keeping us out of a depression or a much worse recession. It is interesting to note that Congress people who vociferously criticized the stimulus in Washington would tout the jobs it had created when they were at home in their districts.

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), often called Obama Care in an effort to politicize it, tens of millions of people now have health insurance who didn’t before. (This number would be substantially higher if Republican Governors and legislatures had cooperated with the ACA. See my blog post of 8/13/14 for more detail.) Thanks to the ACA:

  • Millions of young adults in their early twenties can and do now stay on their parents’ health insurance;
  • Millions of people with pre-existing health conditions can now change jobs, go back to school to further their education, or start their own businesses because they can’t be denied health insurance if they switch insurance providers; and
  • Many families are now avoiding financial distress and bankruptcy due to medical bills because they now have health insurance to pay them.

Furthermore, the ACA has probably contributed to the slowing of the increase in health care costs and it clearly hasn’t generated the runaway inflation in them that its critics predicted.

Despite these tangible and significant successes of the ACA, the media coverage of it is largely negative as is a large portion of the public’s perception of it.

Another example is the arrival of tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors at the Mexican border last summer. Right wing media and politicians blamed the Obama administration for causing the problem and failing to respond appropriately. This crisis was a major news story. In reality, the problem was caused by a spike in violence in three Central American countries and weak, disrupted economies in part due to the NAFTA trade treaty and other long-standing issues. The Obama administration responded with an improved and expedited process for handling the immigration of these children, as well as diplomacy and economic support to address the issues in the three countries. Within three months, the arrival of unaccompanied minors dwindled and the crisis was solved. But coverage and acknowledgement of this success was, for the most part, nowhere to been seen or heard.

My next post will go into more detail on why the government rarely gets credit for or acknowledgement of its successes.

[1]       Cohn, J. Spring 2015. “Why public silence greets government success,” The American Prospect (Much of my post is a summary of this article.)

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2 comments

  1. Young, Christie (SEN) · · Reply

    Love this!

    1. Thanks, Christie! It’s good to get back to blogging after 2 months where teaching 2 courses and grand parent duty left me no time to blog!

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