I have been a lawyer in Washington for decades, eight years in government, half when the Democrats were in power, half when the Republicans were in power. And a great source of frustration has been that the role of government, especially the role of the executive, is largely misunderstood even by educated newspaper readers. The President and Congress receive most of the coverage. But the executive branch has the greatest impact on American daily life. Even in the longest and most complex legislation passed by Congress, all the details are filled out by executive branch agencies such as cabinet departments and independent commissions with bipartisan appointees. They are also responsible for enforcing all of these rules, including initiating enforcement action and imposing fines. The tricky part of this series is to tell a story so vast (one in every 16 people work for the government, touching every aspect of American life) that it is generally incomprehensible (even to the most dedicated insiders). eccentrics in ring politics) and remind viewers that failures and mistakes are the tip of the iceberg. The parts that work do it invisibly, and that’s why everyone takes them for granted.
Episodes about food, disease, weather, money, the future and change, Conover begins with good news, forgotten stories about what works, and dedicated unsung heroes who give their lives for the betterment of society. Each begins with a problem to be solved. At the beginning of the 20th century, spoiled meat made people sick, so the Ministry of Agriculture posted inspectors at meat processing plants. The day I watched this episode, there was an article in the newspaper about a meat recall due to E. coli. You haven’t eaten anything because of these inspectors. In 1929 the banks went bankrupt and all depositors lost their money. Now the FDIC insures bank accounts and we see what happens when a bank fails and all deposits are saved. In one of the most breathtaking scenes, Conover flies into a hurricane to see the government get the weather data you call on the phone or watch on the news. Another official quietly explains how he made the decision to call the deadly 2020 storm «unbearable.» They managed to evacuate 100% of the inhabitants, saving everyone’s lives. Like other characters in the series, he explains why he does his job – to protect people.
And then we move on to the second half of each 30-minute episode, to the flops. Government is better at creating systems that work than protecting them from predation by businesses that want to profit from what has already been paid for in taxes. Conover astutely compares Accuweather’s efforts to charge for weather information collected by the government to bottling and charging tap water. None of the government’s failures are as heartless as the decision to only release critical information about an upcoming storm to paying customers.