Flint was a failure of government -- but it didn't have to be so. And government wasn't the root of the problem. It was about the people, and ideas they advocate, who have taken control of governments across the country.
Water is a public good provided by public institutions -- i.e. governments. It should be clear now that "running government like a business" (the privatizers trope) means you don't invest in places that don't have markets that can afford to buy your products. It didn't work for Flint and it doesn't work for America. Government needs to be run like a government -- clear about its mission, run by competent people (yes, bureaucrats) committed passionately to the public good.
The tragedy of Flint should never have happened, but at this point, the evidence is undeniable and the suffering is real. Fixing Flint is an urgent priority. Fortunately, (although far too late) the truth has finally sidelined the spin-masters who spent years denying the problem, and blaming the "anti-everything" crowd. But the battle over defining what and who was at fault is just getting started.
The right-wing echo chamber, hypocritically and offensively, hopes to turn Flint into another opportunity to further alienate and increase cynicism towards government:
- Michelle Malkin blames the Federal government (everyone loves to hate Washington), and by consequence Obama, putting the blame on the EPA.
- Redstate, along with every other conservative blog, blames the obvious villain - the Democrats who ran the place into the ground: "The main culprits in this mess are the City of Flint and Detroit, both which have been run by Democrats for decades. "
Yes, Michigan elected officials and government agencies failed. They failed because of how they govern -- the ideology that drives them, the politics that causes them to ignore those they don't need to get elected and their failure to put the public good at the top of their priority list every day they go to work. The failure to invest in basic public goods like drinking water is exactly what smaller government looks like.
Fortunately, progressive voices aren't inadvertently adding fuel to the anti-government fire. Writing in the Washington Post, Katrina vanden Heuvel gets it right:
Indeed, when government is polluted by officials who put corporate interests above their constituents and cost-cutting above the common good, it too often fails to fulfill even its most basic functions, such as protecting access to safe drinking water. But instead of giving in to anger and austerity, in this election, we should be having a vigorous debate about how government can be truly accountable to the people it serves.
The tragedy in Flint needs to be fixed today without regard for costs. If we can do that to fund wars, we can at least do the same to save lives. The small silver lining in a very dark cloud is the opportunity to both expose the mythology of small government, job-killing regulation, low taxes and trickle-down economics and to demand reforms that institutionalizes a government that works for everyone regardless of where they live, how much they earn or whether they look the same as everyone else.