Obama to the People of Flint: “I think there is a larger issue that we have to acknowledge, because I do think that part of what contributed to this crisis was a broader mindset, a bigger attitude, a corrosive attitude that exists in our politics and exists in too many levels of our government. And it’s a mindset that believes that less government is the highest good no matter what.”

Sorry I’m just now getting around to it, but, in case you missed it, here’s footage of Obama’s speech to the people of Flint a few days ago, followed by a bit of the transcript. [I don’t have anything to add. It’s just really good stuff on the role of government, and what happens when you crusade against “big government,” and I wanted to pass it along.] Oh, and if you read all the way to the end, there’s a bonus video, shot in Flint the same day as the President’s visit.

…(I wanted to tell you) that I’ve got your back — that we’re paying attention. So I met and heard directly from those who are leading the federal response and who are working hard to make sure that Flint is whole again, to make sure that this proud city bounces back not just to where it was, but stronger than ever. And I want all of you to know I am confident that Flint will come back. I will not rest, and I’m going to make sure that the leaders, at every level of government, don’t rest until every drop of water that flows to your homes is safe to drink and safe to cook with, and safe to bathe in — because that’s part of the basic responsibilities of a government in the United States of America.

So as President, I’ve sent Flint the best resources our federal government has to support our state and local partners. The agencies that serve you — the agencies that specialize in health and housing, and those that support small businesses and our kids’ education; those that are responsible for the food that our children eat and, of course, the water we drink. Everybody is on duty. The National Guard is on duty. This is a hands-on-deck situation — all hands on deck. Because if there’s a child who feels neglected on the north side of Flint, or a family on the east side of this city who wonders whether they should give up on their hometown and move away, or an immigrant who wonders whether America means what we say about being a place where we take care of our own. That matters to all of us — not just in Flint, not just in Michigan, but all across America. Flint’s recovery is everybody’s responsibility. And I’m going to make sure that responsibility is met…

The bad news is that this should not have happened in the first place. And even though the scope of the response looks sort of like the efforts we’re used to seeing after a natural disaster, that’s not what this was. This was a manmade disaster. This was avoidable. This was preventable.

Now, I’m not here to go through the full history of what happened. Like a lot of manufacturing towns, Flint’s economy has been taking hits for decades now — plants closing, jobs moving away. Manufacturing has shrunk. And that’s made it harder for the city to maintain city services. And let’s face it, government officials at every level weren’t attentive to potential problems the way they should have been. So they start getting short-staffed, they start getting a shrinking tax base, more demand for services. Things start getting strained, and there’s not enough help from the outside. And then when Flint’s finances collapsed, an emergency manager was put in place whose mandate was primarily to cut at all costs. And then some very poor decisions were made. All these things contributed to this crisis. Many of you know the story.

Now, I do not believe that anybody consciously wanted to hurt the people in Flint. And this is not the place to sort out every screw-up that resulted in contaminated water. But I do think there is a larger issue that we have to acknowledge, because I do think that part of what contributed to this crisis was a broader mindset, a bigger attitude, a corrosive attitude that exists in our politics and exists in too many levels of our government.

And it’s a mindset that believes that less government is the highest good no matter what. It’s a mindset that says environmental rules designed to keep your water clean or your air clean are optional, or not that important, or unnecessarily burden businesses or taxpayers. It’s an ideology that undervalues the common good, says we’re all on our own and what’s in it for me, and how do I do well, but I’m not going to invest in what we need as a community. And, as a consequence, you end up seeing an underinvestment in the things that we all share that make us safe, that make us whole, that give us the ability to pursue our own individual dreams. So we underinvest in pipes underground. We underinvest in bridges that we drive on, and the roads that connect us, and the schools that move us forward.

And this is part of the attitude, this is part of the mindset: We especially underinvest when the communities that are put at risk are poor, or don’t have a lot of political clout — and so are not as often heard in the corridors of power.

And this kind of thinking — this myth that government is always the enemy; that forgets that our government is us — it’s us; that it’s an extension of us, ourselves — that attitude is as corrosive to our democracy as the stuff that resulted in lead in your water. Because what happens is it leads to systematic neglect. It leads to carelessness and callousness. It leads to a lot of hidden disasters that you don’t always read about and aren’t as flashy, but that over time diminish the life of a community and make it harder for our young people to succeed….

In one of the roundtables, I was listening to somebody — I think it was a pastor who told me, you know, it made us feel like we didn’t count. And you can’t have a democracy where people feel like they don’t count, where people feel like they’re not heard.

And that attitude ignores how this country was built, our entire history — which is based on the idea that we’re all connected and that what happens in a community like Flint matters everybody, and that there are things that we can only do together, as a nation, as a people, as a state, as a city that no man is an island.

We’ve been debating this since the Republic began: What are our individual responsibilities and what are our collective responsibilities. And that’s a good debate. But I’ve always believed what the first Republican President, a guy named Abraham Lincoln, said. He said we should do individually those things that we do best by ourselves. But through our government, we should do together what we can’t do as well for ourselves.

So it doesn’t matter how hard you work, how responsible you are, or how well you raise your kids — you can’t set up a whole water system for a city. That’s not something you do by yourself. You do it with other people. You can’t hire your own fire department, or your own police force, or your own army. There are things we have to do together — basic things that we all benefit from.

And that’s how we invested in a rail system and a highway system. That’s how we invested in public schools. That’s how we invested in science and research. These how we invested in community colleges and land grant colleges like Michigan State…

We invested in our communities and our cities. And by making those investments in the common good, we invested in ourselves. That’s the platform we create that allows each of us independently to succeed. That’s what made America great…

Now here’s that bonus video I promised. It’s of Governor Rick Snyder being booed by the people of Flint… The best part is when Snyder says to the audience, “You didn’t cause this,” and they respond by yelling back, “No, you did.”

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9 Comments

  1. Anonymous
    Posted May 7, 2016 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    Snyder should have trusted his first instinct and stayed away.

  2. EOS
    Posted May 8, 2016 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    This is a glaring example of government incompetence, so Obama calls for more government. The problem is essentially that the local government failed. MDEQ and EPA were too far removed from the problem to act quickly when the local officials reported false data of water quality testing and failed to provide honest oversight. The EPA and its regulations mandate testing for a myriad of chemicals that are highly unlikely to be found in most municipalities. It is an unecessary burden for most and diverts money from essentials. Of course, providing clean water is an essential government service that should be paid collectively. But this is best accomplished locally. However, when there is a lack of moral values among citizens, no amount of government is sufficient. Unless we return to the values of honesty and integrity we are doomed to suffer these type of problems repeatedly. Our government thrived when Biblical values were shared by the majority.

  3. Peter Larson
    Posted May 9, 2016 at 1:41 am | Permalink

    The Bible is pretty popular in the South and always has been, but that never stopped slavery, not gross failures of governance, particularly when black people are involved. Mississippi leads the nation for Bibles and poor government.

    In the end, more than any time in the county’s history, one is better off living in more secular areas which tend to have their shit together.

  4. Peter Larson
    Posted May 9, 2016 at 1:43 am | Permalink

    I typed “not,” but it should have read “nor” but probably should have read “or.”

    I will self-immolate soon and the world will finally be rid of me.

    But not until I release “Six Pack Songs” volumes 2 and 3.

    Volume 1 is available here:

    https://petelarson.bandcamp.com/releases

  5. Andrew Clock
    Posted May 9, 2016 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    Cracks me up that the govenrment is evil crowd can’t see the connections between the small government, privatization, deregulation movement and the crumbling of America’s infrastructure. Do they all think its a coincidence that shit has been falling apart in America ever since Regan was president?

  6. EOS
    Posted May 9, 2016 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    When in my lifetime have we ever had small government? It grows like a cancer. Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama – they all enlarged government’s reach. Liberals and NeoCons achieve the same disastrous results.

  7. Peter Larson
    Posted May 10, 2016 at 2:25 am | Permalink

    Lol.

  8. Meta
    Posted May 17, 2016 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Now Snyder is taking meetings with Little Miss Flint.

    http://www.metrotimes.com/Blogs/archives/2016/05/12/gov-snyder-co-opts-a-positive-flint-moment-invites-the-little-girl-who-wrote-obama-to-lansing

  9. iRobert
    Posted August 5, 2018 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    Though I agree with EOS that government is too big, and way too wasteful. It wasn’t big government which caused the Flint water poisoning crisis. It was a consequence of a profiteering scheme. Everyone wants to pretend that isn’t the case now. The republicans want to direct attention away from that because their whole existence revolves around profiteering schemes. The Democrats don’t want to say it because they prefer to believe in people’s better intentions. They, including president Obama, prefer to focus on a more general message, suggesting the crisis was the result of people trying to save money. If you believe the Republicans who run Michigan are trying to save you money, I have a bridge I want to sell to you.

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