Americans now reflexively expect the government to solve our problems, whatever they may be. I am incredulous.
We have expected our government to guide our economy. The result has been inequality and deteriorating infrastructure. We have expected our government to ensure we all have adequate health insurance. The result is a morass of inefficient bureaucracies and escalating cost. We have expected our government to improve the prospects of our least fortunate citizens (remember the war on poverty?). The result is that poverty has become entrenched in our inner cities and has extended to rural communities.
How did we get here?
Politicians of both parties have abandoned principle in favor of an unstated philosophy that has been embraced by the public: “government should enforce what I think is right.” Whenever 50% of the population is imposing its beliefs on the other 50%, we have lost track of the basic American principles of freedom and rule of law.
Instead, we get platitudes. What’s a platitude? I recently saw a definition that cuts to the quick: a platitude is and idea that (a) is admitted to be true by everybody, and (b) isn’t true.
The recent bi-partisan budget deal is exhibit #1. Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) called it a deal that “makes us weak as a civilization.” Meanwhile, Sen. Charles Shumer (D-NY) called it a “win for the American people.” So, which is it?
Well, you can be sure that whenever you see both Chuck Shumer and Mitch McConnell smiling, the taxpayers will be paying a bigger bill. (In this case, a mere $288B.) Such compromises always results in rewarding political friends, engaging in social engineering, and supporting businesses by socializing losses incurred by so-called capitalists.
Some media like to focus on examples of government waste from studying the sex lives of Japanese quails to printing reports that no one reads. While that’s great fodder for social media LOL’s and angry faced emojis, it’s not the right place to focus our attention.
The “free market” (not that it’s really free) is responsible for our prosperity but also is the cause of much pain. Society may benefit from higher average incomes but is harmed when businesses with near monopoly power eliminate the competition or when the side effect of our prosperity is damage to the environment. To advocate policies in support of business while ignoring the negative side effects is irresponsible.
Our strategic competitors – primarily Russia and China – have been investing in military technology while we have shrunk our global presence and are burdened by a wasteful bureaucracy (the Navy has more Admirals than ships). Yet, rather than debate the defense budget from the standpoint of strategy, we quibble about the size of the budget and what programs should be saved in defense of jobs in one Congressional district or another.
What is government’s role in protecting the privacy of its citizens? Should the government guarantee a minimum standard of living? How should we restructure Social Security and Medicare to ensure benefits for an aging population without overwhelming the generation still at work? How should our immigration policy be redrawn to ensure our economic growth while treating those who wish to come here humanely?
These are the debates we should be having. Instead, conservatives focus on how to undermine the effectiveness of institutions that provide women’s health services, while liberals endeavor to restore the 20th Century glory of a now obsolete trade union model.
Both liberals and conservatives can agree in principle on the need to ensure our prosperity while providing an effective social safety net. Both can agree that we need to maintain a leading edge in military technology in order to ensure our national security. Both can agree that our environment must be protected by government regulation. We should have a healthy debate on all these matters.
Unfortunately, we can’t do so until we get past the perceived need to govern by platitude rather than principle.
WHO WILL LEAD?