Editor Emeritus Dave Zweifel has been with The Capital Times since he graduated from UW-Madison in 1962, serving as the paper’s editor in chief from 1983 to 2008. He was president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council for 15 years, served as a Pulitzer Prize judge in 2000 and 2001, and named to the Wisconsin Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2011.
The common perception among many Americans is that government simply can’t do anything right.
There are whole books of jokes that feature government as the punch line. See those three guys filling a pothole? One’s working and two are supervising. But, what the heck, that’s close enough for government work.
To be sure, there are lots of inefficiencies in some government programs and because of the sheer size of the federal government, often one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing.
We know about that because in our democracy, government is open. When a government official or a bureaucrat does something foolish or wastes valuable resources or unnecessarily spends taxpayers’ money, there are news stories about it. When defense contracts come in way over budget, it makes the news. When a government official holds a meeting at a lavish resort, it hits the press, as it should. With rare exceptions, they can’t hide their mistakes or misdeeds.
That’s not usually the case in private business. Although the mistakes are just as rampant, just as wasteful, just as irresponsible, it’s much easier to sweep the problem under the rug without anyone except the insiders knowing about it. There is no free press serving as a watchdog on private business, as is its function with government…
For every example of alleged ineptitude in government there’s an example of incompetence in the private sector. There are some things that government, working on behalf of all the people, can do better, just as there are some jobs that only private companies should do.
The challenge for us is to not yield to inaccurate perceptions, but to be able to tell the difference.