The Government. The Feds. Washington. Words that strike anger and frustration into the hearts of a majority of Americans. The government of the people, by the people, and for the people, is being rejected…by the people. This stunning contradiction, almost fifty years in the making, is the bastard child of political branding, civic ignorance, and a hippie-like approach to the idea of civil liberty.
Before exploring the reasons, it is important to remember one critical fact; the Founding Fathers established this nation, under this constitution, because they understood that men must be governed. Anarchy and society cannot exist together, and whether through a king, feudal lords, or all-powerful corporate entities, some form of government would exist in any population of humans. Jefferson, Payne, Hamilton, Washington, Franklin, Hancock, Adams, and the rest felt that a representative democracy was the best choice to fill the role of government. Through painful and painstaking compromise, they managed to craft a structure that endures to this day.
Just like ships, airplanes, and skyscrapers, a constitution must be both strong and flexible; the oft-expressed notion this past year that the United States return to the “Founders original intent” or “original Constitution”, while romantic, is silly. I don’t write this to demean; many well-meaning and otherwise intelligent folks have written and spoke the most contorted hypocrisies because of their anger and frustration with government. I simply believe that it is time to take a breath and engage in some clear thinking. The original reading of the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, does not fit in today’s America. I am not blaspheming folks, the tearful young lady who demanded of Senator Specter during a town hall last August that we return to the original intent of the Founders, would not have been allowed to speak by the Founders. It wasn’t until 1920, and the 19th Amendment, that women had political standing in the United States.
The election of Barack Obama, and the decision by the Republican Party to torpedo his agenda without prejudice, has certainly been a trigger for this angst. The truth of the matter, though, is that this process has been moving since the 1960’s. A similar amount of anti-government sentiment and action was engaged in by the political left throughout the Vietnam War; the scars and divisions from that period have yet to heal. The tipping point for this process ocurred way back in 1981, during Ronal Reagan’s first innaugural address. He famously remarked that ‘government was not a solution to our problems, it was the problem.’ Folks, the Rational Middle knows that our governments, federal, state, and local, are beset with problems. The issue with Reagan’s quote, and the rationale behind it, is that this is a democracy.
We are the government! Are we the problem? Is the voting process the problem? Should we the people do less through our instrument, the government? These questions are rarely ever addressed at any more than a transparent level, yet they are the critical questions of our times and our politics. Conservatives and Liberals don’t differ on national security, family values, or jobs; most Americans want the same things (partisans, relax and deal with it). The difference, fundamentally, lies in how much should be done by the people’s instrument and how much should be left to individual people. These questions, by the way, are not meant to be answered by Chris Matthews and Glenn Beck, they are meant for real Americans living real American lives. You know; normal folks.
In answering the questions, we are sent back to the three issues highlighted at the beginning of this post; political branding, civic ignorance, and the hippie-like approach to civil liberty. The typical American voter has children to raise, a home to keep up with, and works more than 40 hours per week. Most normal folks don’t have the time to be policy wonks. I would submit, however, that it is both important and achievable to keep with the basics of the big issues.
- Political Branding…Both political parties, and all special interest groups brand their important positions in the same way that Proctor & Gamble brands their products. Brands should be well defined images that are easy to communicate, hard to forget, and spread efficiently through word of mouth. Most of you receive political chain letters often…the health care letters (written by “doctors” often) of last August are good examples. These are typically written by paid political operatives (this isn’t a conservative bash…Liberal groups do the same thing). The rule; do your own research on the topic from a primary source; PBS is OK, but the actual bill would be better. The Library of Congress posts “CRS Summaries” of pending legislation that are good, non-partisan methods of quickly searching within a bill. Remember, most of what you hear now on cable (and in blogs like this one), are opinions, not true journalism. True journalism is dying in this country, it doesn’t generate good ratings.
- Civic Ignorance…This is not a take on ignorant people, rather it is about smart people who let themselves become ignorant to the structure of our governments. I listened to a very intelligent person the other day who was upset that the governor of our state was laying off state troopers. She could not fathom how the “government” could afford to redesign the quarters (a good question) when it needs to lay off state troopers. Federal and state governments operate independently of one another, by design. Sometimes they duplicate services and regulations because they are fighting over control. Tax rates, services, and the efficiency of states varies throughout our nation…so knowing the basic differences makes for smarter voting. It is also important to understand the scale of government budgets; in a state like California, $500 million is only about 2% of the budget. On the federal level, $500 million is about 0.01% of the total.
- Hippie-like Civil Liberty Approach…”I am an American, it is my right…” Well, maybe, but the rest of America has rights that are just as important. Hippies and the counterculture of the 1960’s pioneered this identity, but radical conservatives like Ayn Rand, and her disciple Alan Greenspan, adopted the idea without a second thought. Since this is, by design, a government by and for the people, substitute “people” when you see “government” in the following sentences; the government is the problem, leave the government out of the markets. If the markets control the country, and the government should stay out of the markets, then why have a democracy?
We are, all of us, connected to each other and affected by our actions. It is our government because it is the best alternative. Attack its inefficiencies and correct its flaws, but recognize that when you talk about America being the greatest nation in the world, it is the people and their Constitution to which you are referring. We embrace capitalism because it is the most efficient system for driving economies and innovation, but we do not make the embrace at the expense of democracy. The slippery slope to higher taxes and crippling regulations does exist; but we stand atop a peak in this nation of ours. A slippery slope exists in the reverse direction, one where a rejection of taxes and the resulting lack of investment has already begun to cripple our proud country.
The Rational Middle believes that we are smart enough to navigate the middle channel, intelligently governing, prudently taxing, aggresively investing, and fearlessly leading ourselves and the world. We just have to trust ourselves and our time-honored system; the Constitution is not broken, and has not been ignored or trampled. The document that our Founders used as a tool to establish our nation is a rugged thing of beauty that has grown better over time. The intent we should return to is the idea of active, participatory democracy.
The Rational Middle is listening…