Up, Up … And Away?

I really hope nobody’s told Ivy about the Blue Angels.

You know about the Blue Angels budget cut, of course. It’s not like the early end of this year’s performance season for the Navy aerobatics masters hasn’t been splashed all over a thousand news outlets. But then, you aren’t a 2-year-old girl who idolizes the planes and their pilots.

(By the way, if you are a 2-year-old girl reading this column, congratulations! Preschool is going to be no problem for you whatsoever.)

Ivy, my oldest niece, loves the Angels. Adores them. Her Halloween costume was even in the familiar blue flight suit and beige cap – her choice. Tell her they’re in town and she’s raring to hop in that child seat and go.

But of course, they may not be in town for quite some time now.

I know, I know. There are a lot of hard choices to make in Washington. And looked at practically, it makes perfect sense. When any budget has to be cut, whether personal, corporate or government, you usually want to remove the least essential first. Navy air shows, White House tours and Easter Egg rolls on the president’s lawn may be fun, but they’re not highways, troops and Medicare, either.

And yet, and yet …

Looking at some of these higher-profile cuts, I can’t help feeling like I’m back in Kansas all over again.

I was living and working in Emporia, Kan. when a new city manager arrived and faced a $2.5 million gap between what the city wanted to do and what the city had the money to do. So he and the city government went to work drafting a budget proposal that made a lot of cuts.

Including the money for the city band.

And that’s when the fireworks began. (But not with city money; those were to be axed out of the budget, too.)

Rooms were packed for budget hearings like they had never been before. Maybe there would have been good crowds anyway; this was a big crisis with big interest. But a solid chunk of the audience – not everyone, but way more than a handful – said whatever you do, don’t strike out the band.

“Economizing doesn’t mean eliminating,” one supporter pleaded.

It wound up working on both sides. The community was engaged in the decision. And the band saw its funding reduced, but not obliterated.

Even in a hard budget year, not all decisions come down to dollars and cents.

Some things always have to be done, of course. You have to pave the roads, to keep the lights on, to keep the streets (or the country) safe. You don’t ignore those.

But there’s nothing wrong with lighting the eyes and touching the soul, either.

A newspaperman I know of once made a similar point for journalists. He acknowledged that there needed to be investigations, hard looks at serious problems, and all the rest. “But don’t forget,” he said, “that it isn’t illegal to give people cause to hope.”

An air show may inspire a clutch of future pilots. A White House tour might encourage a future politician – or at least, a future involved citizen.
Who’s to say?

One more time: I know you can’t do everything. And the inspiring as well as the mundane have to be considered for the knife. But in a government that’s often self-combative, it’s not illegal to give people cause to smile, either.

Just a thought.

After all, in times like this, even Blue Angels need guardians.