The Government That Ate America
What’s this? Joe Biden in weekend conversation with Mitch McConnell over how to step back from the fiscal cliff? Isn’t Biden the man in charge of solving The Gun Problem? How does he have the time or energy – not least the ideas – to launch another rescue mission?
Apparently he had none of these. Not much came, reportedly, of the Biden-McConnell negotiations. One is struck anyway by an infinitely larger question – how did we as a society, as a nation, get to this point: wrapped in suspense while the government of the United States works out, or tries to, the solutions to our greatest problems?
The government? Joe Biden? The Senate? The House? The presidency? The courts? What has a structural arrangement devised for the maintenance of ordered liberty got to do, legitimately, with all it’s got to do with?
On Monday morning, the talk in Washington, D. C. – a city named for a president with entirely modest aspirations when it came to power – revolved around more than late-night negotiations.
Matters such as income levels, “chained CPI,” alternative-minimum tax patches and Medicare payments, swam before the eyes of our elected representatives who, understandably, looked goggle-eyed as they rehearsed their arguments or recounted their labors. The New York Times highlighted Illinois Democrat Richard J. Durbin’s account of the proceedings: “It looks awful.”
That might be because it is: predictably so. Americans have had a good if unsettling look at the number of patch jobs necessary to make the pistons of modern government move with anything resembling regularity.
It was no wonder on Monday morning nothing was getting done. To switch metaphors, the pieces of the puzzle scattered on the respective floors of Congress' two Houses are infinite in size, variety and configuration. Who’s able to assemble so great a number of pieces in the manner best suited to the needs of a diverse nation?
The trouble here is obvious. Anyway, it becomes so with a little thought. The bigger the policy questions at stake become, the more numerous the stakeholders become; thus, the dimmer grow the prospects for reconciliation of variant viewpoints. Everybody wants his piece of the action. In a democracy, that means, everybody gets it.
If you’ve gathered by now this is an anti-big government sermon, you have certainly gathered correctly. Americans perennially bat back and forth the arguments over big government’s costs and who ought to pay them. How about introducing into the mix the topic of big government’s basic unworkability? Too big to pay for equals too big to work. Can there be any doubt of it?
What’s been happening the past decade or so in Washington – not just since the election – is the slow-paced screening of a disaster flick, “The Government That Ate America,” in which demands that Congress and the president do a bit of everything finally overload the machinery of government. The machinery sputters, fizzles, gasps. Orange and red lights start to flicker. YOU CAN’T HAVE EVERYTHING YOU WANT! is the message the control system flashes.
A national government – leave aside a multiplicity of state and local governments – that absorbs a quarter of Gross National Product, as ours does, is the kind of government that … well, look around Washington today, next week, next month. No short-term deal can get the job done. A government grown too large for its old-fashioned purposes – “to provide for the common defense, to promote the general welfare, and to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” – can safely be pronounced in drastic need of reform.
Both political parties in some measure escorted us to the “fiscal cliff.” The party now in general charge, led by the biggest big-government lover ever to inhabit the White House, bears presently the heavier responsibility. But back to guns. Wait till Joe Biden is done rebalancing the economy. He can go on from there to replacing rifles with clubs, plus anything else he may have in mind. With big government, it seems, there’s no rest, no recess.
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