As flags fly at half-staff and Pittsburgh’s spirits dip as low as the sullen clouds, it is necessary to take the unusual step of saying something nice about the government.
This is important because the flags have been lowered for three city police officers cut down Saturday by yet another armed, paranoid hater, this one harboring anti-government fantasies colored by anti-Semitism.
Those brave officers were just answering another domestic disturbance call. To the killer, it seems they were hated symbols of the government.
Usually, I am not sentimental about the government. I subscribe to the view of Will Rogers, the famous cowboy wit, who observed, "There’s no trick to being a humorist when you have the whole government working for you."
But something very sick lurks here, something that crept out of the fringe to burst upon the mainstream on an ordinary Pittsburgh street, something that is no joke. So as an antidote, something good now needs to be said about that government.
Forgive my ill humor today, but I do not take kindly to any threat aimed at my government, whether it comes from al-Qaeda or from some knucklehead writing for a Web site from a Pittsburgh neighborhood and then picking up guns to defend his lunacy — in fact, I am not sure I see the difference.
My government is your government too, whether you are liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat. It’s our government of the people. All of us have a collective stake in it.
Our government now happens to be in the hands of a new president, Barack Obama, who came to power in an election that was freely contested and which he indisputably won.
Of course, the shooter hugging his AK-47 like a love charm hated Obama with a special passion, but that is not the first point to be made. It was our government when George W. Bush was president, too.
Some of us did not like his leadership — which was our right. In America, no president is immune from criticism. Free speech roams freely in a free land.
Yet when George Bush was president, people like me did not think to suggest armed insurrection, subversion or disobedience. We made fun of him and he survived the flogging of wet noodles.
Eventually, in the time-honored way of this great democratic republic, most people decided it was time to give the other party a chance. This is how it is supposed to work.
And that is how it should work again if issues and events find Barack Obama wanting. Legitimate criticism of the new president is no more out of order than criticism of the old. There is plenty to fairly say about the government as it strides the land scattering money like Johnny Appleseed scattered seeds.
There is even something to be said for this bit of wisdom from Will Rogers: "The more you read and observe about this Politics thing, you got to admit that each party is worse than the other. The one that’s out always looks the best."
But Will Rogers was a comic philosopher. He was not a hater of the government or anyone else (he famously said he never met a man he didn’t like).
Not so today’s obsessive jokers who have crossed the bright line of fair comment and strayed into the muck. The killer of the Pittsburgh police officers did not come from nowhere. He was nurtured in a culture where anti-government feelings are imbibed like mother’s milk, where it is taken as holy writ that only guns secure our freedom, not the consent of the governed.
As far as I am concerned, people can keep their guns for self-protection or hunting as long as they are "well regulated" — to use the forgotten words of the Second Amendment. But if they want guns to make war one day against a government that a majority of Americans voted for, then I have a word for them — treasonous.
Since Obama was elected, a cottage industry of resentment has sprung up to cater to sore losers. From talk shows hosts who hope the president fails, to others who hint at insurrection, to Web sites that play on crazy fantasies (Barack Obama’s a Muslim! He was born in Kenya! He’s a Marxist!), the chorus is the equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded theater.
These hate-mongers did not fire the fatal shots at the Pittsburgh police. But the killer — I refuse to give him the perverse pleasure of naming him — took the general illogic to its logical conclusion.
We have three needlessly dead heroes in Pittsburgh to remind us of what is at stake. United we stand — but divided we fall. I stand to defend the government. The government is us.
(Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail rhenry(at)post-gazette.com.)