BRATTLEBORO, Vt. – It’s been a rough year for Brattleboro, even before Hurricane Irene took out a block of businesses.
     Last winter a big old apartment building burned and water from the fire hoses ruined six stores on its ground floor on Main Street. An Italian restaurant and a bookstore are gone for good, I imagine. The lady who runs Firefly giftshop is going to try to make it as an online store, so that’s gone too. All those jobs.
     Down Main Street, Baker’s stationery-drug-toy store, which has been there forever, closed and moved into its branch outlet in a strip mall on the outskirts of town.
     The Home Depot that anchored that mall closed during the recession. Across the street, a chain restaurant just closed too – gave its employees about an hour’s notice and boom.
     Three law offices that have been here for more than a generation closed up. Our favorite Indian restaurant shut down. The Mole’s Eye Tavern closed. A restaurant that was ruined by the fire, water and smoke moved even farther away. And Brattleboro Books, the best used bookstore in a 30-mile radius, just cut itself in half to save rent.
     Then Irene blew through town. Whetstone Brook jumped its banks and filled all the basements on Flat Street with water and their ground floors with mud: New England Youth Theater, a machine shop, a brew pub and restaurant, an Indian import shop, the Latchis Hotel, Movie Theater and restaurant, and the ground floor of Sam’s, the biggest outdoor outfitter in town, all soaked and muddy.
     Their workers will be laid off, some of them for a long time. Some of the owners have said they wonder if they’ll be able to reopen at all.
     Brattleboro is a small town and losing all those jobs, and all those empty storefronts on Main Street, really hurt.
     And the destruction in the towns on the way to ski country, 15 minutes away, is indescribable. They look like Tibet after an earthquake in the Himalayas.
     It’s hard to say how many people in Vermont are still cut off from everything: roads out, no power, no food unless they hike out of the mountains for it.
     Just in that one stretch of mountains where I take my bicycle rides as many as 5,000 to 10,000 people have suffered loss of everything, from their power to their roads to their jobs to their homes.
     I saw one house fallen into the river, and another one dumped into the middle of the road.
     It’s situations like this that show why we need government. A government that functions, that has reserves to call upon, be it money, workers, equipment.
     One of the little towns in the mountains here, Wardsboro, population 854, was totally cut off by floods Sunday; its people received no help until government agencies airlifted supplies to them on Wednesday.
     Airlifted supplies. To people in Vermont.
     In how many countries in the world are people truly grateful to see the government come to their door? Fewer than half of them, I bet.
     While all this has been going on, politicians of all stripes, but particularly of one stripe, have continued to holler that our country is broke, that we cannot afford to “feed government” anymore by paying taxes, that we have to starve government, to make it worse, and even weaker, than it already is.
     That’s nonsense. The United States is not broke. Our gross domestic product is around $15 trillion a year. We have plenty of money. But we have even more personal greed and political cowardice.
     Countries facing true sovereign debt crises today – Iceland, Ireland, Portugal and Greece – may actually not have the money to pay off their government debt.
     The United States has the money, we just don’t want to do it. Because we are selfish, short-sighted and greedy, and we elect leaders who are even worse than we are.
     But some things only governments can do. To run for government office by claiming that government is evil, that it must be starved, weakened and debilitated, is perverse at best. And to vote for people who say they will do that is stupid.

%d bloggers like this: