When I ran for public office, I described myself as a fiscal conservative but a social liberal. Over time, I came to see my description was facile and without meaning. What was I saying about myself? That I don’t want people to pay much in taxes, but I wanted day care and health care for the poor, good libraries, good schools and housing for the homeless? How could I have been so naïve and so thoughtless concerning the inherent contradiction in my positions? I didn’t mean to deceive my constituents; I was being dishonest with myself.
Over time, I came to admit my folly and left the Republican Party, which had become so extreme that abandoning it was easy. I didn’t register as a Democrat, however, because I don’t believe government should oversee too many facets of our lives. (Blog 2/5/15) Becoming an independent was the best I could do, an ambivalent position which, I suspect, others have taken for similar reasons and which may account for the government’s lack of direction. How can we expect our leaders to lead, when the populace isn’t sure about government’s role?
In his essay, “The Anger Game,” Michael Kinsley makes a good case that Congress is confused because we, the people, are also. (“The Anger Games,” by Michael Kinsley, Vanity Fair, 2/15 pgs. 74-75). A prime example is our constant complaint against negative campaign adds. But, as Kinsley observes, “…politicians don’t bicker for exercise.” (Ibid, pg. 74.) They do it because we keep sending them back to Congress. In truth, we don’t want those whom we elect to compromise. We want them to get in there and fight for the issues we care about. The problem is what we care about as a nation isn’t clear. We seem to want “incompatible things from the government (more tax cuts and more social benefits)…” (Ibid pg. 75.) Not even Aladdin’s genie could satisfy those contradictory objectives, and yet we send our leaders to Washington to accomplish the impossible. When they fail, Kinsley notes, we blame them instead of looking at ourselves.
His point may be well-taken, but like the weather, no one does much about it. How often do we, as individuals, examine our positions or question our logic? Most people, I suspect, would describe themselves as fiscally conservatives with a social conscience. Do any of us know what that means in terms of government action? “To be a good citizen,” Kinsley concludes, “you need a framework to help you sort through all the ideas and candidates out there.” (Ibid pg. 75) Without that clear framework, we become, like our politicians, bloated with empty phrases.
Joseph de Maistre (not Alexis de Tocqueville) wrote in 1811, after the French Revolution revolution, that ,“In a democracy, people get the government they deserve.” I fear it is still true.