The Cocktail Party Contrarian: Real-Life Lessons in Big-Government Failure

During a long wait for help getting a passport, I turned to my son and said, ‘This is why you don’t vote for more government.’

Glenn Fawcett via Wikimedia Commons
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer stamps a passport at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, March 13, 2020. Glenn Fawcett via Wikimedia Commons

My son and I went to the post office to get his passport. When I discovered he had lost his last one, I thought I might cry. He didn’t remember his last adventure in passport acquisition, but I did. Luckily, this time was just as frustrating as the last, and my son’s 16-year-old brain that morning absorbed a few important lessons about the failures of big government that I hope he never forgets.

I teach my children to arrive early. Being prepared for a meeting, I tell them, includes leaving enough time to allow for delays and unforeseen problems. We arrived at 10 a.m. for a 10:30 appointment with the passport agent.

At the desk, under the large sign that read “Passport Office,” sat no one at all. So, we got on the line of people waiting for regular postal service, which was being attended to by one employee. We saw, and heard, at least three other employees in the back, but none of them offered to help the six waiting customers in front of us. 

Fifteen minutes later, we made it to the front of the line and were told to wait back at the Passport Office, where we had seen no one. The representative was in the back, we were told, “getting ready.”

We stood where instructed because there were no seats. As the clock ticked closer to 10:30, I turned to my son and said, “This is why you don’t vote for more government.” He had that pained and resigned look on his face that is familiar to anyone who has been trapped in a government office and understands there is no recourse.

I seized the moment. “If this were a for-profit company, that guy in the back would be rushing out to serve his customers. He wouldn’t want us going elsewhere. But passports are government issued. Where else are we going to go? He doesn’t have any incentive to accommodate us, so he doesn’t.” It was better than any 10th grade civics class. 

When the passport agent finally emerged at 10:30, the point was made. If anything teaches my son not to vote for politicians who talk about building government bigger so it can take care of its people, it will be this moment, not some history lesson about failed socialist states.

The process of sorting through, signing, and stamping everything took time. I knew I was one typo away from being sent home to start all over again, and I was sweating as the agent reviewed my paperwork. He did me the favor of copying the second page of my passport, which I had forgotten to do, and I showered him with gushing gratitude, as though he had given me his kidney. 

My son didn’t recognize me at that moment, but this is what every citizen is reduced to when beholden to the State, I told him later.

All our forms, and documents, and copies of documents were placed into a large envelope. The agent took out brown packing tape and sealed the flap and then covered the seal with dozens of official red-ink stamps. The final step was to tape a form to the outside of the envelope. What happened next is proof of God’s existence, I believe, and evidence that He also opposes big government and has a sense of humor. 

The agent pulled out an ordinary looking roll of scotch-tape. He struggled for several minutes to find the edge of the roll. The exasperated woman waiting in line behind us volunteered to help and began desperately clawing at the tape with her nails. She had several good starts, but was crestfallen every time she pulled a tiny, torn piece off only to have to start again. 

She knew she was failing, so she asked a simple question: “Can you use different tape?” The answer was obvious. “No,” he said, “we are required to use this kind of tape.”

Right, I thought, looking at my son to emphasize an already clear point. Nothing would seal the civic lesson in his brain like that roll of tape that wouldn’t allow us to seal the deal and get on with our day.

He burst out laughing, unable to contain himself any longer. An hour in the passport office will do that to the strongest of people. Luckily, the agent laughed too. For a moment I was worried that he had a special government bin into which he threw the envelopes of those who didn’t sufficiently pay their respects to the process.

He got up then, went into the back, and emerged a few minutes later with a new, working roll of government-sanctioned tape.

When we were done, we left, the same way we all leave the DMV or the airport security line at JFK — a little less than we were when we arrived. There is something diminishing about the realization that we live in the freest country in human history, and yet we subject ourselves to shades of the politburo by way of whom we vote into office and how we let them ruin everything they run. 

My teenage son can’t vote yet, but when he does, I hope he remembers the post office visit.

The New York Sun

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