Friday, February 08, 2008

Expecting Too Much From Our President

The AP reports that people are unhappy with how things are going in the US, and that they expect the next president to come along and make it all better. This is a patently silly notion. Make no mistake, the president has tremendous power to affect issues and to set tone, but he is not totally the master of his own fate. Nor is his power so awesome as to positively affect everything that is currently making people feel uneasy.

The federal government has grown to such size and scope that no single person can effectively manage it. We have turned on its head JFK’s admonition, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Rather than being wary against government encroachment in our personal lives, today Americans demand that government manage our personal health, get us jobs and homes, educate us, keep us from doing anything risky, fund our retirement, and make us happy.

Frankly, we ask too much of an entity that is not structured to fill our endless desires. That won’t stop politicians from pretending they can do so or from raising taxes and imposing restrictions in a futile attempt to at least make a good show of it. The idea that the federal government can be all of the things we demand it to be is ludicrous. And the idea that one person, however capable, can effectively manage such a sprawling beast is equally ludicrous.

The only way any president is going to make us feel good about the direction the country is headed is to have the great luck to preside over a good economy, have the media regularly talk up the good portions of the economy, have no serious terrorist attacks on US property or personnel, and keep everything quiet on foreign fronts, all while employing sleight of hand to keep people from paying attention to what the government is doing domestically.

In other words, the only way a president is going to make us think the country is headed in the right direction is to carefully keep people in the dark while simultaneously experiencing tremendously good luck and great relations with the media. Experience shows that a left-leaning media will often give more favorable coverage to left-leaning politicians, but the number one rule of media is that they are out for a story that will sell. Experience also shows that the media sharks are not above turning on their ideological friends if it will produce a good selling story.

Americans that are setting high expectations for their next president are quite certain to eventually be disappointed. No politician, however capable, can succeed in delivering what they want.

The answer to this problem is not a larger federal government. The answer is a smaller, more tightly focused federal government. Some things absolutely must be centralized, but a great deal of what the federal government does today should be relegated to state and local governments. And some of it should be scrapped altogether.

While it is true that decentralizing creates less order, not all order is good. Nazi Germany had great order. Meeting needs on a level closer to the people means that different jurisdictions will do things differently, but that can be a good thing. One-size-fits-all programs rarely serve people well.

These are ideals that should pervade every thought of those we elect to represent us at every level. If that were the case, by and by, government would get better rather than simply larger, more oppressive, more expensive, and less efficient.


rmwarnick said...

Bush and the GOP Congress were an awesomely efficient wrecking crew. Putting it all back together, starting with the Constitution, isn't going to be easy.

The next President will also be responsible for restoring our ruined foreign policy, our military, our economy, our judicial system, environmental protection, and a major city called New Orleans that was destroyed back in 2005.

Maybe there will be time to investigate and prosecute some of the crimes of the Bush administration, but certainly not all. We will be too busy just fixing the damage.

Jeremy said...

Richard covered most of my response.

Reach is right that the president can't solve all of our problems but we can try to select someone who isn't going to screw things up even worse with poor decision making while in office.

Bush's war on Iraq, his prescription drug entitlement, his protectionism, his rampant deficit spending and other failures contribute directly to the current and future economic and social well-being of our nation. He has failed us in a very real and direct way. Our next president can't fix all the damage Republicans have done...but it isn't expecting to much that he'll/she'll be able to make better decisions as we progress into our nation's future.

Anonymous said...

I love your last paragraph - it makes me think of the possibility that government getting better is antithetical to government getting larger. We need an attitude in this country of trying to solve things at the lowest reasonable level - that often means the individual but certainly at progressively larger levels depending on the problems being addressed.

We are plagued with the widespread notion that any problem can be solved by the federal government, or if not them, the state government. Remember the poem about the man who changes himself and how his influence could eventually change the world - not the other way around.

Scott Hinrichs said...

The anti-Bush rhetoric misses the point. Democrats were extremely displeased with Clinton until he was impeached. Then they closed ranks behind him. You're simply not going to find anyone from any party that can adequately manage our federal leviathan. The answer is to reduce the scope and size of the federal government, moving each function to its lowest feasible level.

The Lady Logician said...

RMW and Jeremy....the last time I looked, the Democrats were in charge of Congress - not the Republicans!

Scott is 110% correct! You both missed the point in your hurry to "bash Bush". It is not a Republican versus Democrats is about WE THE PEOPLE! WE THE PEOPLE have got to quit demanding that the government be our nanny and start being more of a "set of guidelines". We the people can manage our own lives better than Nanny Government can and we need to start DOING IT!

Fantastic post Scott!