When civil society withers, big government could be why

Suzanne Mettler's Dec. 20 Opinion piece, "When government withers," places the blame for declining levels of citizen participation in civic affairs and citizen trust in government on the diminished role of government in people's lives.

Surely, she has overlooked the fact that, as measured by federal expenditures, we have much more federal government touching our lives now than we did in the 1950s. We may have had the GI Bill, but we didn't have Medicare; Medicaid; the EPA; OSHA; the Departments of Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, and Transportation; the Consumer Product Safety Commission; the Corporation for National and Community Service; the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; the Federal Election Commission; the Federal Maritime Commission; the National Transportation Safety Board; or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, to mention a few.

It could be that there is less participation and trust in government because it has co-opted community-run social and educational programs. In addition, I think the courts have steadily eroded the extent of meaningful influence a community's members may have on community life. Ms. Mettler may want to conduct more research and adjust her hypothesis accordingly.
Paul Wescott
Anchorage, Alaska

Homelessness shouldn't be acceptable

I was puzzled by the Dec. 21 article, "In St. Paul, putting less heat on the homeless." At the end of November, I completed an 8,000-mile tour, via Amtrak, of 22 American cities, in all of which I took walking tours of the downtown architecture by day and at night. I know from firsthand experience that homelessness in this country is so widespread as to be a national disgrace.

What I do not understand from what I have seen and from what I have read in articles such as yours is this: Why do we Americans accept the presence of the mentally ill on our streets as a social norm? Why are methods being tried out instead to address the collateral problems? Isn't there a larger question: Why are homelessness and untreated mental illness acceptable to us? Isn't this the question the paper should address?
Gary Martin
Matamoras, Pa.

Some offenses are worse than others

I enjoyed Dante Chinni's Oct. 25 Opinion column, "In Washington's scandal shuffle, perjury really isn't the point," and generally agree with the sentiment.

But as an ex-Republican who came to Bill Clinton's defense in 1998, I believe there is a huge difference between calling for a hired staffer to resign for leaking the name of a covert CIA agent and impeaching a twice-elected president against the will of many American people.

I know pundits will try to cast the Democrats as hypocrites, but I think the media should be careful with that characterization. It would trivialize outing a CIA agent by making it equal to a lie about sex.

This erroneous comparison would also elevate the motives of the GOP for impeaching Clinton. Contrast Clinton's errors with a political operative's attempt to smear a private citizen for exposing the administration's exaggerated claims about WMD - claims that ended up taking our country into war.

Over 2,000 of our brave troops are dead for one of these offenses; Bill Clinton will work a lifetime to overcome his humiliation for the other. I see a huge difference between the consequences of the two actions, and enormous hypocrisy on the part of the GOP.
Jan Beebe
Nashua, N.H.

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