Opinion » Bill Cope

Keep the Courthouse

And rub their noses in it at the same time

by

I have the best idea about what we should do with the old Ada County Courthouse. A pretty good idea, anyway. At least, it'd be better than renovating it into Club Legislaté or turning the Capitol building into a home improvement project. And it's sure better than tearing down an historic and aesthetic structure on the whims of a few unhistoric, unaesthetic twits who come and go like temporary fleas on the dog of our state.

Now, I realize most of the folks in the Idaho Legislature aren't going to like my idea much, but who cares? Look at it this way, in another generation you'll have to camp out in some library's dusty back room and dig through stacks of old newspapers and mouse droppings to find any evidence that the demolition proponents were ever part of Idaho's history. But if we manage to save the courthouse we'll have over 57,000 square feet of perpetual proof that government, under decent leadership, can indeed respond to the needs of its citizens, can provide hope and vision instead of fear and discord, and can actually promote and enhance a sense of community rather than find new ways to piss people off. Wouldn't that be nice?

So here's my idea: We spend whatever money it takes to fix the courthouse up, but leave it exactly the way it was built. No knocking out old walls to make conference rooms which Republicans can close off to the free press, no adding new walls to provide schmoozing space to legislators whose only purpose in life is to get re-elected, and definately no optic fiber wiring or DSL access or any other high-tech goop so's some bird from Oakley can communicate faster with some other bird from Declo. If these guys want to communicate with each other so damn bad, let them go driving through busy intersections with a cell phone to their ear like everyone else.

Then, when the building looks brand-spanking new inside and out like it did in 1939, we'll turn it into a museum. Yup, a museum. Only this museum will be a monument to those public employees, bureaucrats and elected officials from our country's past who rolled up their sleeves, got their hands dirty and did what needed to be done to help Americans be healthier, smarter and happier. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Museum for Glorious Accomplishments in American Government, that's what we'll call it, and an entire wing will be dedicated to the Social Security Administration alone.

Good idea? Of course it is. With the kind of leaders we come up with these days, future generations will need a place to go to find out how in the hell somebody ever got dams and highway systems built, managed to keep old people out of penury and sick kids out of morgues, educated the masses like they'd never been educated before, and all while they were sending men to the moon.

As I've said, most of our legislators won't like it, but I don't know which they'll hate the most-the "Glorious Accomplishments of American Government" part, or the "Franklin Delano Roosevelt" part.

See, many of these people have spent their entire political careers trying to convince their constituents that government can do no right-which is obviously horse poop of the first order. Yet the modern Republican Party thrives on the position that the collective effort we call "government" is somehow unworthy. When this argument is carried out to its logical conclusion it implies if you, I and the crippled-up old lady next door don't have the gumption to go out and build our own interstate highway systems or the wherewithal to hire our own meat inspectors, then we deserve neither highways, untainted meat nor anything else the government is capable of doing on our behalf. Think of it as the "Paddle Your Own Canoe or Screw Ya!" philosophy of governance.

The one individual they despise most is Franklin Delano Roosevelt. More than any other single president, FDR showed America that a benign and adequately-funded government is capable of more than helping wealthy people get wealthier. With his Public Works Administration (which gave us our Ada County courthouse, incidentally) and the National Recovery Administration, Roosevelt actually put Americans and American industry to work-in America! (You know, instead of encouraging American corporations to put Indian workers to work in Lahore.) With his National Labor Relations Board, he actually ensured workers some control over their own destinies-and respectable wages, to boot! You know, instead of busting unions and encouraging millions of illegals in to flood the labor market.

And we all know what his Social Security Administration did. Just consider for a moment what your Grandma and Grandpa would be up against without it.

But Republicans hate him, essentially, for having proved conclusively that government can be a reliable friend to common people. A rich man himself, FDR denied their ideal of survival of the richest, and they have been digging like coolies ever since to undermine and dismantle every thing he accomplished. The courthouse, for instance ... do not be fooled into believing they would tear it down for the sake of efficiency. No, they want it destroyed because in those art deco features and grand style, they see the beaming face of FDR-just as the Bush pack smells FDR's lingering spoor on Social Security. They want it erased from American history. Every last trace, leveled to the ground. Because, by its existence, it disproves everything they stand for.

Ah, but if we turn the courthouse into a museum instead of a legislative lounge, and if we don't muck up a perfectly good state capitol with clompy wings off the ends, then where oh where are those poor legislators going get that extra space they need so badly for a couple of months every year from which to attack gays and not do anything about crumbling school buildings?

I thought of that, too. If you get on Main Street and drive west until you hit the river, you will notice dozens of empty buildings. Abandoned car dealerships and boarded-up warehouses, that sort of thing. The area's not so far from the center of Idaho's government, really. Just a hop, skip and a public bus ride. They aren't fancy, that's for sure. But neither are the legislators I'm taking about. And with a little damage deposit up front, I'm sure they would have all the room they'd ever need, especially when all they do is undo the work of better people who came before.