We’ve heard much about various politicians’ “Vision of America” – come next November, we’ll find out what the voters see.
First, let’s dispense with the discussion about whether or not this election will be a referendum on President Obama. All presidential elections (and not a few off-year ones) are referenda on the sitting president. If voters think he’s doing a good job, he’ll be re-elected (or supported); if not, he won’t. It’s not rocket science.
President Obama will try to make the election about the Republican candidate – whoever gets the nomination will be the devil incarnate – rather than his record, which is tainted by the legacy of his absentee-landlordship over a dysfunctional Democratic Congress’s spending like drunken Greeks. The Republican will try to make the election about that record. The undercurrent of this cycle will be about government’s role in American society.
This is a national argument that we’ve had since the Founding, albeit taking different masks at different times. Both conservatives and liberals favor a strong national government – the conservatives for presenting a dependable national face to the world, and the liberals for the sculpting of domestic society. It’s Hamilton versus Jefferson.
The problem with highly polarized eras is that this becomes an either/or question rather than one of where to strike the balance. Obviously, government has a place in shaping society – law enforcement, poverty relief, and so on – and equally obviously, government has a responsibility to protect its territory, citizenry and interests. Unfortunately, the 2012 elections will be portrayed as the evil, child-eating Republicans against the oblivious, frenzy-spending Democrats, when the real question is whether we want a nation that trusts its people or one that trusts its politicians.
The idea of market-republicanism is that the people, in the aggregate, make better decisions – the averaging of 300 million self-interested individuals tends to be more solution-oriented than the averaging of 535 self-interested politicians. Politicians, of course, tend to disagree. Both Democrats and Republicans favor increasing their personal power and, taken times 535 means larger government – for no higher purpose than cumulative self-aggrandizement.
That would be annoying enough except the consequences are more important than just that. More government means less left over for investment in problem-solving and wealth-creation, which is what raises standards of living for everyone. Government doesn’t make anything, so whatever it gives to someone, it must first take from someone else. Government doesn’t create wealth, it consumes it. Government is hopelessly inefficient at actually doing anything – it’s a deliberative body, not a particularly good administrative one.
A large part of the problem is that Congress isn’t about solving problems, it’s about how best to use problems to advance an existing agenda. Both parties do this. Individuals tend to solve the actual problem at hand. I don’t know how anyone can look at the current condition of America at home and abroad, and conclude that incumbents deserve to have their power increased.
Of all the monies collected to help the poor, 70% is absorbed by the numerous bureaucracies set up to “help the poor.” By far the biggest beneficiaries of such funds are the middle-class bureaucrats assigned to administer those funds.