Another economic stimulus package will be on its way soon, new government programs and initiatives are bound to take shape in the coming months, and the incoming President has made it very clear that he will not stand on the sidelines and watch an economy in peril.
Are we reliving the Great Depression? Do we need a New Deal? Or is that a visceral response rooted in shortsighted solicitude? Questions that no doubt will be asked as we move into the new year, and questions that matter.
The New Deal was implemented with great urgency. People were struggling, families were hurting, and patience for action was not a reasonable expectation. What resulted most certainly showed its haste; some of the New Deal programs were poorly run, and others ran in direct conflict with others. Some, like Social Security live on today and others, like the National Recovery Administration, were deemed unconstitutional.
There was no time to discuss what might work and no time to think about possible consequences. There was panic, and what the American people wanted more than anything was action.
The ultimate effect of the New Deal by no means yields a consensus from modern day historians. Whether or not any part of the program made an actual, lasting impact or if the true end to the Great Depression was the result of increased war industry production in the early 40s, remains an object of debate.
What we know is this: today, the US Government is faced with a similar crossroads of possibilities that will no doubt have important implications and definite consequences for the American people.
We must go about the steps we take with certainty and care and a respect for those they’re meant to assist.
But what does that mean? What should Washington look like in 2009? How does it work? How do we get things done? How do we make sure that the government is on the side of the people and that it doesn’t overstep its boundaries and that it doesn’t abuse economic fear to accomplish unrelated agendas?
Let’s step back from the economic crisis for a moment and talk more generally about Washington.
Here’s what I think:
I urge bipartisan reform and activity in Washington D.C. but condemn an approach rooted in the premise that concession is the only path to progression. Too often, our legislators take the floor with so little confidence in the strength of their own ideas, that when faced with partisan gridlock, and when faced with an electorate demanding accomplishment, they simply fall back on their words and slaughter their own integrity. What we need in Washington are leaders who so fear the destruction of their ideas that to stand up for them with unwavering specificity is not just a job responsibility, it is a personal responsibility. And we need leaders who so firmly believe in their principles, that winning the hearts and minds of others is a challenge worth facing.
We also need leaders (particularly on the conservative side…) who believe that the implementation and acceptance of their ideas is more than a sport, but rather a necessary good. I get pro-life. I get small government. I get preemptive foreign policy. But I am beginning to believe that those who have fought for all of these things hardly believe the very words they speak.
Where is the leader who articulates a position against abortion that doesn’t see success as measured by the number of laws passed, but rather by the number of hearts changed? Where is the leader who can express that while small government is best, without advocating personal responsibility, it will never work; and that if it doesn’t work, then we’re left with big government, which will always fail? Where is the leader who isn’t afraid to describe foreign policy as not just a set of principles that guide us through the here and the now so that we feel good temporarily, but rather a long-term worldview that will protect us and define us for tomorrow and beyond?
Where are the voices that aren’t afraid of the truth? Where are the voices that recognize that for some things, there’s no room for bargaining?
Let me be clear: I am not against compromise. I am just against stupid, pointless compromise. I of course acknowledge that if our lawmakers didn’t play a little give and take, nothing would ever get done in Washington. But it is when a strong idea which was never defended gives way to a weak idea which was never refuted that the interests of politics take priority over everything else and we are left with stagnant, worthless elected officials who advocate nothing but their own careers.
It’s time to take it to the people. It’s time for lawmakers on the right and the left to stand up before those who have elected them and defend the things they do. If 700 billion of our tax dollars are going to be spent on a bailout for the financial industry, then give us the why and give us the how, and give us a principled justification for the singularity of that solution. If the federal government is going to offer another stimulus package that will cost billions of dollars in a time when it seems we don’t have billions of dollars, then give us the reason and give us the risks and give us a firmly pointed explanation for the absolute urgency of that solution. And if the pathway to economic security and a steady flow of job growth is somehow rooted in the power of government, then give us the outlook and give us the roadmap, and prove to us that the best hope is this one hope and that nothing else at the given time can compare.
All I ask is that we’re never left in the dark, because to our founding fathers, that would be a great defeat and a resounding tragedy.
Bold leadership won’t always be an easy task, but a politician’s job should never be less than a challenge and his or her performance should never be less than tenacious.
So what about dissent? What about politicians who know a thing to be true but stand firmly at odds with the people they govern?
If the will of the people ultimately opposes the will of the legislator, then let the legislator do one of three things; fight harder to convince the American people that the position they hold is not in their best interests, concede that the American people were right in their own assessment, or reject political security and vote with a bold confidence that the unpopular stance will ultimately prove to be remarkable. Either way, explain the reasons for a decision. What is left is accountability. What is left is a fellow American in an elevated position of power who at the end of the day must recognize that he or she remains there because of you and because of me. There is no room for ambiguity or indecision. The stakes are high. And the challenges are grave.
In a government by and for the people, a people uninformed and uninvolved is a people that has lost control of the basic idea that government is limited to the powers we give it.
They say we voted for “hope” and “change” in 2008; words that no doubt mandate an expectation for significant transformation in Washington D.C. But what do we actually believe change to be? Is it a new team at bat? A slew of new faces? A different voice with a different style? A bi-partisan spirit where everything means compromise? Or is it a fundamental shift in the role of lawmaker from superior to representative; never hiding from a belief, never running from a vote, never giving in to unprincipled pressure, never being afraid to address constituents with the intention of changing their minds, but never forgetting that leadership done best is always selfless.
This benefits no particular party. This benefits no particular politician.
This benefits you, me, and the freedom we cherish.