--Random House Dictionary
Everybody, it seems, loves to loathe the government these days, you know… Uncle Sam, Beacon Hill, Town Hall. Got a problem, a kvetch, a complaint, a lament? Blame the government. Taxes too high? Must be those greedy politicians. Angry at the world? Something a bureaucrat bungled, right? Worried about a conspiracy to take away your precious guns? That tyrant Uncle Sam must be getting ready to break down the front door.
That is until we really need the government to govern, to take charge, to defend us, to unite us, to rescue us, to care for us or a loved one, to just act. Then maybe government really matters, is in fact central to what it means to live together in community and work together for the common good.
So there last Friday morning was Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick ordering a full travel ban on the roads of the Bay State, an unprecedented move, one not taken since the blizzard of 1978. Storm Nemo was bearing down on our region and something had to be done to ensure that chaos would not rule the day when that superstorm hit. For 24 hours everyone was ordered off of the roads, except for journalists, first responders, and plow operators. The Mass Pike was a ghost road, Route 93 an eerie landscape, town centers empty. We hunkered in, hunkered down and watched Nemo blanket the land in snow, as no other storm had done for almost a generation.
A few angry citizens cried foul, that such a move was a threat to our civil liberties. A poster on Facebook even referred to the governor as a dictator. An angry college student complained in the Boston Globe, calling Patrick’s act “tyrannical”, protested that he didn’t need a tough order to stay inside. Well…boo, hoo.
Turns out Patrick’s order and his strong and clear governance was a great judgment call. During the storm’s height only those folks who should have been traveling were: the National Guard, ambulances and fire trucks, cop cars, the media, and plow trucks. Within just hours after the storm ended, most major roads were clear and wide open.
Yes the 24 hour ban was inconvenient. Yes some businesses were hurt by the order: bars and restaurants, shops and stores. But these are the nightmare images we did not wake up to Saturday morning: hundreds of cars piled under drifting snow on 128 or Commonwealth Avenue in Boston or the Pike littered with stranded motorists. That was the scene in New York and Connecticut. Hundreds of cars buried on the Long Island Expressway, making snow removal impossible. Scores of accidents, 3,000 calls to the Connecticut State Police in one day.
Not here. Our Governor governed and government worked: calmly, clearly, wisely. So maybe the government isn’t so bad after all and doesn’t deserve to be a perpetual public punching bag for a far too often spoiled and self righteous citizenry. Maybe government works well sometimes, even much of the time. When a storm hits. When a Social Security check arrives at month’s end to buy groceries. When tuition is affordable at the University of Massachusetts. When a town clerk, with grace and care, marries a couple. When a soldier defends liberty. When a poor neighbor arrives at the doctor’s office and says, “I’ve got Mass Health insurance.” When a police officer responds to a dangerous situation. That’s our government. That is us.
So thank you Governor Patrick. Great job. You governed and governed well. You reminded us, as did thousands of other government employees, from exhausted plow drivers to double shift firefighters, that government is about the common good. That when the worst disaster hits, we are all in this together, as neighbors and fellow citizens and the governed.