By Harlan Ullman
Both Republicans and Democrats are dead wrong. In assessing government, Republicans complain that the biggest problem is big government. Cut spending, cut its size and cut the strangling effects of regulation and oversight and, presto, as Diana sprung from Zeus’ brow, the ills of obese government will disappear or at least dissipate and the free market will cure all.
The one exception where Republicans love big government is defense. Having the right sized military is vital. Unfortunately, at present, Republicans are more interested in preserving defense spending rather than maintaining forces appropriate to a world in which military power is not sufficient in alone keeping the nation safe and secure, no matter how capable those forces are.
Democrats are also dead wrong. They argue that size of government is less important than checking the ills of the free market. In some cases, government is too small in that it does not extend far enough to help the less fortunate. In others, government is too large and must be cut back such as tax breaks for the well off. And the free market cannot be trusted to reign in the greed and avarice of those who use money only to make more money.
The simple reality is that government is broken. Assertions that government is too large or too small are merely pretexts for advancing unworkable ideological agendas of both left and right. Neither agenda identifies nor addresses the central problem. Unless broken government can be repaired, and it may not be reparable under current conditions, solutions offered by left and right will fail and the nation will be left in worse shape.
For anyone who may have been vacationing on Mars, the signs and symptoms of broken government are as blatant as an eviction notice or a head on car crash. Congress’ abdication in turning over responsibility and authority to a super committee to resolve the budget impasse and the failure of that committee to reach agreement reflect a government broken to the point of dereliction. And the fiasco of the payroll tax extension in which a recalcitrant House of Representatives was forced to accept the Senate’s two month version only after public anger spilled onto the pages of the conservative Wall Street Journal was redundant evidence of a government too broken to function effectively or, heaven permit, even smartly.
As deafness pushed Beethoven into a world of silence, the great maestro concluded that he would only hear again in heaven. As the incompetence of government forces us into less pleasant climes, our expectation of Beethoven’s hearing in heaven is that somehow the November presidential elections will correct a broken government and the nation will be better off. Hope does spring eternal.
Unfortunately for the Republicans, no matter how capable the current candidates may or may not be, none at this stage is remotely experienced or qualified enough to hold that office. And President Obama has not been up to the task either.
This is not unique. The only requirements for President are to be at least 35 years old; American born; reside for ten years in the country; and win a majority of votes in the Electoral College.
Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and George W. Bush were not ready for the job when elected. And it showed. Well into the second term, both Clinton and Bush had matured and learned a great deal. Sadly, it was too late. No nation can afford the costs of that learning process.
A single data point makes this case and it will again in 2016 when the Democrats chose a new presidential candidate. Thirty years ago, standing on the same metaphorical stage for the Republican nomination were: Ronald Reagan; George H.W. Bush; Howard Baker; Bob Dole; Dick Lugar; and John Connolly. For those who may not remember, Baker and Dole were or would be Majority Leaders of the Senate; Lugar chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and former Indianapolis mayor; and Connolly former Navy and Treasury Secretary and governor of Texas. Compare and contrast these gentlemen with those running for the highest office today and in four years time.
For at least a generation if not many more to come, fixing broken government could easily prove a mirage or distant vision, beyond our reach until the public has had enough. What to do then, interestingly enough, does not from the Constitution but from an equally noble document—the Declaration of Independence.
“When government becomes destructive, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and establish a new one.”
America’s government today is broken. It is well on the way to becoming destructive by creating far more problems and impediments to well-being than it cures. Like the weather, we all complain about it. But when will we do something about fixing it?
Harlan Ullman is Chairman of the Killowen Group that advises leaders of government and business and Senior Advisor at Washington DC’s Atlantic Council.
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