Grave warnings about the threats of Socialism and Big Government are flying about these days, along with brave words about individual responsibility, liberty and the ideals that “made this country great.” And many of the folks who mouth these slogans imagine that voting in a bunch of new Republicans is all that’s needed to get the country back on the “right track.”
I don’t know what I’m missing, but I find it hard to believe in politicians of any stripe as miracle workers, particularly when some of them cite lack of experience as their principal qualification. Isn’t it likely that if elected they’d quickly jettison their promises and learn to play the back-scratching game that passes for public service in Washington?
I’m also skeptical of candidates who cite as their philosophical mentor Ayn Rand, with her comic book vision of a capitalist as messianic hero. No more heroes and messiahs, no more ideologies, please. Just give us plain vanilla honesty, modesty, competence and common sense.
I must also confess that I’m not impressed by pot-bellied, middle aged Americans wielding assault rifles who claim that they’re ready to take to the hills and fight for the freedoms that the government has taken away. Because Americans don’t really want to be free. We want to be taken care of. We want comfort and security rather than freedom and responsibility. We expect the government to rescue us from our bad choices, fund our retirements and pay for our health care, regardless of the life styles we lead.
Taking to the hills would require us to abandon our couches, our remotes and the 500 channels we need to keep us entertained. “Take surfing to a new level in a chair with WebTV, high speed links, a lap top tray and a drink holder,” reads an ad for Lazy Boy recliners, whose sales are soaring. One word describes our spiritual as well as our physical state: “Obese.” Why does the caged bird sing? Because it likes the cage. The cage is safe. The bird is well fed. If the bird got out of the cage, it wouldn’t survive. Sitting Bull said it 150 years ago: We have traded our freedom for “a piece of bacon fat.”
So no more “Give me liberty or give me death” bravado. That was all very well for the revolutionaries who threw off the yoke of tyranny. The country was young then. Now it is old and a little bit tired. “Give me a break” is more like it, “Cut me a little slack.” And spare us the alarms about “Socialism.” The United States has been a socialistic state at least since the New Deal. And we like it that way for all our huffing, puffing, chest beating and grousing. Rich and poor, from panhandlers to giant corporations, everyone wants the state to give them handouts, bailouts, subsidies and protection from competition.
“The state is the great fictitious entity by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else,” a great sage once wrote. But let’s remember that the state is ultimately “Us.” People get the government they deserve. Politicians lack “political will” because we don’t want to change. We’re on a track that leads to a train wreck. Either we go bankrupt or we rein in entitlement spending to levels that are sustainable. Sooner or later, we must face the reality that our resources are limited, that there are actual limits to what the government can tax and spend, limits to how much treasure we can divert to idealistic, non-productive uses.
The scorn for incumbents is just as irrational as the belief in miracle-working rookies. Throwing the rascals out will change nothing. Reform is impossible as long as special interests can purchase political power. We don’t need Democrats or Republicans in power. We need a new kind of politician, one who owes favors to no one, who is free to serve the common good.
If the day ever comes when all of us — individuals and interest groups — are willing to give up some of our entitlements and make some sacrifices, a new kind of politician will come forward to clean up our mess.
— George Gurley, who lives in rural Baldwin City, writes a regular column for the Journal-World.