The Purpose of Government

Many years ago, a conservative friend decided he needed to challenge me. So he asked me one of those popular conservative questions at the time: what does the government do for you? This conversation took place over 30 years ago.

This was an era when conservatives said they would “like to shrink the size of government,” though they never said how small they wanted it to be. In 1986 Ronald Reagan had said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help’.” And in 2001 anti-tax activist Grover Norquist said he didn’t want “to abolish government”; he just wanted “to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

So, back to the original question. My friend argued that the government doesn’t do much for the average American. Yes, the government maintains the roads. We get clean water to drink. The government maintains our sewage system, which decreases disease. Finally, the government protects us with our military. In his conservative mind, that’s all the government was good for. But, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, it’s important to note that our government does much more.

We began hearing about a disturbance off the African coast that could develop into a hurricane in mid-September. We knew this because of a sophisticated network of satellites that orbit the earth and give reams of data to the team of meteorologists at the National Weather Service. These meteorologists and other scientists, working for our government, use sophisticated modeling to track and predict the path of this tropical disturbance. This data is then given to the smiling faces on CBS or the Weather Channel.

As the disturbance turned into a tropical depression and a hurricane, we could follow all this in real time. The cyclone slammed into Cuba on Sept. 26-27. We constantly got detailed, sophisticated information as the National Weather Service flew airplanes into this raging hurricane to learn more about it. Twenty-four to 36 hours before landfall, we knew the storm was going to hit the western coast of Florida, somewhere around Fort Myers, as it turned away from the Tampa-St. Petersburg area. We also knew, a day ahead of time, that this was going to be a major hurricane—and sure enough, it hit Florida as a Category 4, with 155-mph winds (at 157 mph a storm becomes Category 5).

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Errington C. Thompson, MD

Dr. Thompson is a surgeon, scholar, full-time sports fan and part-time political activist. He is active in a number of community projects and initiatives. Through medicine, he strives to improve the physical health of all he treats.


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