Reagan redux

Jeff vonKaenel

Former President Ronald Reagan once said, “The most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”

I was thinking about that quote recently as I sat in a meeting of the Sacramento Metro Chamber Clean/Green Technology Team, one of 12 committees participating in Sacramento Metro Chamber Cap-to-Cap program.

Composed of smart, dedicated, hardworking people from business, education, nonprofits and government, the green team examined the numerous environmental-technology ventures in Sacramento to determine which projects might benefit most from federal funding. Once the brainstorming is complete, the team will journey with the other 11 committees from California’s capital to the nation’s capital (Cap-to-Cap) in Washington, D.C., April 17-21. There, the respective committees will try to secure government stimulus funding for the Sacramento region.

This is my second year on the green committee, and I’ve found the work to be a complex, but effective, means to secure federal dollars. In the technology area, a relatively small amount of money can have a significant and positive impact upon our region. As new jobs are created, more money comes into the local economy, jump-starting local businesses. It’s simple economics.

However, as I was studying the technology proposals, Reagan’s quote kept going through my head. It’s a funny line, but frankly, lame. The perspective that government only messes things up, that if only government could get out of the way, our robust self-made enterprising business community could be counted on to do the right thing, flies in the face of the recent banking meltdown, which was caused by a lack of government regulation, not an excess. If Reagan was alive today, I wonder what he’d say.

To those who insist, as Reagan did, that the government isn’t here to serve the public good, I say, look around you.

It was government that created the transportation system of roads that allow agricultural products to get to market. In 1960, California’s government established the world’s greatest system of public higher education, which in turned spurred the state’s economy to new heights. Medicare and Social Security are popular government programs that not even Reagan would dare touch. Government provides our local police and fire services and defends us from foreign invaders. While others may claim credit, it was government money that created the Internet, which has successfully and dramatically enhanced our business productivity.

Of course government can and should run better. But let us not forget that our economic and environmental problems cannot be solved without a funded, effective government. Reagan’s doctrine of rugged individualism reminds me of another line, perhaps the most absurd nine words in the English language: I did it all by myself without any help.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.