Government and people: Who Serves Whom?

     Recently, someone I know went through one of those Kafkaesque moments with government bureaucracy.  His father had been killed in combat in the invasion of Europe in World War II, and, when his mother remarried, he was given his stepfather’s last name, but no formal adoption took place.  So his legal name remained that of his birth father, but the name he used throughout his life was that of his stepfather. 

     Now, many years later, he wanted to set the record straight by having his birth certificate formally amended to reflect the name he had used all his life.  Let us say that the name he had used all his life was Frank Jones, but that his birth certificate listed him as Frank Smith.  So he went to the clerks of records in the county of his birth and said he would like to have his birth certificate amended to list him as he had been known all his life.  The clerk said he would need a copy of his original birth certificate.  He asked for that certificate, and the clerk asked him to prove that he was the person listed on that certificate — Frank Smith.  Well, he said, all of my identification lists me as Frank Jones, and that is precisely the problem I am trying to solve.  Well, said the clerk, if you can’t show identification as Frank Smith, you can’t have the birth certificate of Frank Smith.

     A perfect catch 22.  To change his birth certificate to the name he had used all his life, he must have the original certificate, but he cannot have that certificate unless he provides identification that he cannot possibly get unless he has the certificate. 

     What is sad about this is that approximately 300,000 people are in this situation.  They were the children of women widowed by the war who remarried and gave their children their stepfather’s surname, so that none of these children have an accurate birth certificate.  It is probably not an issue for all but people like Frank Jones, who needs the certificate for international travel and security clearance.  But it does illustrate a point that is becoming ever more obvious in today’s political climate.  Government, said Lincoln, is supposedly, in America, by the people, for the people and of the people.  More than ever today, however, it is by, of and for someone distinctly other than the people.  It is far more likely, at the moment, by, of and for those who pay the most to get politicians elected.  That is, of course, an old song, but more and more, it strikes me, the practice is far more blatant.  In Wisconsin, where I was born raised and lived my life, the government is tearing apart a tradition of progressivism and populism that was once a model to the nation.  Legislation is being passed to burden the poor and the middle class, to further disadvantage the already disadvantaged and to weaken education and health care coverage, all in the name of frugality.  It has never been, until now, the practice of this nation to solve its problems on the back of its most disadvantaged.  We are at a sad moment in the life of our country, and we desparately need to return to a time in which our government serves, rather than punishes, our citizenry.  Mr. Jones should be able to walk into a government office and get helped rather than frustrated.  Politicians need to spend their time serving the people rather than themselves.  Yes, frugality.  Yes, eliminate irrational regulation.  But, for crying out loud, serve the people.

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