Citizens, It's Down to You

By Dickey, Christopher | Newsweek, September 19, 2011 | Go to article overview

Citizens, It's Down to You


Dickey, Christopher, Newsweek


Byline: Christopher Dickey

Tired of waiting for Washington? Good old American innovation is the answer.

Americans are, by nature, self-reliant. They've always been that way, and most would prefer to stay that way. But there are limits. "Yes, we are rugged individualists," President Barack Obama told a joint session of Congress last week in his Big Jobs Speech. "But there's always been another thread running throughout our history--a belief that we're all connected, and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation."

OK, fair enough. But what happens when the government that is supposed to bring people together instead helps to drive them apart? Or simply ceases to function in any reasonable fashion? That is what we've seen in the last few months, and the problem is only likely to grow worse in the months to come. As that happens, rugged individualists may have to grow more rugged than ever before.

There are some issues that only government can address successfully. As Michael Tomasky points out in the following pages, America's crumbling infrastructure can be fixed, but "we have to fix Washington first." The country's hard-pressed cities, big and small, are where the vast majority of Americans live and where they demand the most immediate services, from garbage collection to public transport. "If it's broke, fix it," read signs put up in the subways by New York City's transit authority, explaining why it's patching up the stations piecemeal rather than opting for full-scale renovations that are badly needed.

Elsewhere, Americans have gotten tired of waiting for the federal and state governments to solve their problems. They've looked at the major issues affecting their communities--unemployment, environmental degradation, crime, aging populations--and they've decided to fix what they can with whatever resources they can find right now. …

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