The Obama Administration specifically, and the Democrats in general, continue display a lack of trust in the American people. Repeatedly, Obama’s speeches and White House policies are laced with rhetoric advocating increased federal government activity, over reach and regulation. Notwithstanding what I believe to be a general predilection towards this position by the Democrats, it’s fair that we pose the question, “Are Americans worthy of being trusted, in the first place?”
Trust is a two way street. “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me,” the old saying goes. It is foolhardy optimism to continue to put your trust in people who make a habit of abusing that trust. As easy as it is to hurl stones at the Administration, it’s a fragile structure, indeed, from which we pitch them.
Being trustworthy means being able to acknowledge and act responsibly with the truth. Candidates from both parties tell us that they are for small government. Both will say they want to decrease taxes. Knowing that government revenue is down during these tough economic times, Americans ought to expect and embrace fiscal responsibility from Washington. Yet I’ve never heard a candidate from either party telling a crowd that he or she proposes to make cuts in the programs on which the onlookers have come to rely. I have yet to hear a candidate say, “I believe in small government, but small government will place a greater burden on you.” Though no one wants to hear it, that is precisely the truth. Nor have I heard a public outcry calling for significant cuts in programs that favor our budgets or public proclamations of readiness to take on work shed by the feds.
Since its inception, our federal government has failed to effectively check itself by learning to say “no” to citizens. In the interest of appealing to the electorate, candidates have relied on bribery to secure the promise of votes—“Give me your vote and I’ll give you public policy that pads your wallet,” they tell us. Americans have been all too eager to believe campaign pledges can become reality, taken in by their appeal of immediate gratification. Our “30 minute fast or free/drive through” lifestyles have permeated our expectations of our policy makers. We want what we want and we want it now. There has been scant little emphasis on fiscal discipline, budgeting and long-range planning at the expense of today’s comfort. We’ve become content compartmentalizing the truth while we hear what we want to hear from politicians.
Implementation of public policy consistent with ideologies the candidates confess to believe and what the people say they desire would shrink the size of the government, but it would also add commensurate burdens on everyday citizens. The message America needs to hear from Washington is, “In order to make your life better, we must make your life harder.” Americans are making a habit of choosing the path of least resistance, forgetting that resistance builds strength. Now encumbered with government entitlements that have become critical to our lifestyles, we vociferously object to the prospect of their disappearance. In fact, many Americans ask for more (see healthcare).
At some point it will be necessary for our elected officials to provide real leadership, which will entail the effective application of discipline for our own good. When an easier path is so readily available, the busy and difficult reality of living within our means and assuming additional responsibilities is not a choice people often make by themselves. Buckling down need not be a message of dismay like Carter’s “Crisis of Confidence” speech. Rather, it needs to be based in the hard truth that living lives of excess cannot be perpetuated forever but that our hope is that Americans can be trusted to endure any tribulation.
I believe in Americans. When faced with a challenge, we hunker down and meet it head on like no other people on earth. That American spirit is the hope of our future. What has made us weak now provides the context for our return to greatness. Individually, one family at a time, we are already doing this. We are tightening our belts, making budgetary cuts, downsizing our lifestyles and our expectations. We are finding more creative approaches to funding college and retirement. We are leaning on our families and our communities to help us navigate difficult circumstances. These are all good things for America’s future.
Leadership requires the administration of discipline even when—no, particularly when—it is unpopular. But Washington must be able to trust Americans to accept prudence and frugality as necessary measures. Americans must be willing to do more for themselves and their communities in the absence of government programs. Government programs exist where there is need and removing the program doesn’t remove that need. If we get the smaller government most Americans say they want, can we be trusted with the responsibility of filling the void, or will we be dragged along like the dog that caught the car?
In an absence of leadership, someone will always fill the void. Washington is operating on an assumption I fear Americans have too long perpetuated—that excessive government involvement is needed and desired because Americans are poor trustees of their own well being. Personally, I am looking for a leader who will challenge us to become trustworthy stewards of a government of the people, by the people and for the people.