I was just going through puberty when Jimmy Carter took the keys to the White House from Gerald Ford. I didn’t fully understand the differences between conservatives and liberals when it came to governing. All I knew was that I really didn’t like the way things were when Mr. Carter ran the place. As a kid, I thought he was useless. I saw the national speed limit drop from a reasonable seventy miles per hour to the snail like pace of fifty five. I saw the Olympics become a political issue when the competitors from the United States were blocked from participating in the games held in Russia. I watched the hostage crisis in Iran play out on television and thought it humiliating that American citizens were being held by some third world country. I remember watching the energy crisis wreak havoc on the nation with lines of cars waiting to fill up at the gas stations. I remember the double digit inflation grinding the American economy to a halt.
I remember thinking that Mr. Carter didn’t have what it took to run the country very effectively and maybe it was time to give somebody else a try. And although I couldn’t vote at the time, I thought it would be better if people gave Ronald Reagan a try. What the hell did I know about the implications of Mr. Reagan’s leadership? All I knew was that things weren’t working out very well. The day Mr. Reagan took office and the hostages were released was confirmation that change was needed. Despite my liberal leaning views from growing up in a black household in a predominantly black neighborhood, it was time to give conservatism a shot.
What a difference a generation can make. On the surface, there appears to be a lot of similarities between President Barack Obama’s leadership and Mr. Carter’s when it comes to the economy. While on the whole things aren’t as bad now as they were then, Mr. Obama’s economic leadership appears ineffective, tepid, and weak. Mr. Obama has neglected to give the push for jobs his full support. He has done little to change the policies of his predecessor and has allowed his political opponents to dictate the major terms for economic policy. Now that he’s facing reelection, Mr. Obama wants to say that there’s more work to do and he needs another term to get that work done. But could it be that it’s time to give one of his political opponents a shot at running things for a while?
With respect to Representative John Boehner, “HELL NO YOU CAN’T!” is the answer that comes quickest to mind. While it’s obvious that few people are fond of Mr. Obama’s stewardship or the lack thereof, the idea of having one of his political opponents at the helm of our stumbling economy is truly a frightening proposition. I see the group of conservative presidential contenders vying for the public’s attention and their rhetoric sounds downright scary and regressive. Conservatives say government is the source of all our problems and the typical conservative candidate will bend over backwards trying to prove that nobody believes that theory more than he or she does. One candidate says that civil rights laws are unconstitutional. Another says that he or she wants to make government so ineffective that people won’t even know it exist. Another candidate promises to end the Environmental Protection Agency. Another wants to close the Department of Education. Another candidate wants to eliminate the federally mandated minimum wage. Somebody else wants to do away with the income tax altogether. Another asks the question who needs the Food and Drug Administration. And all say that they promise never to do anything to increase revenues by a single dime by closing tax loop holes or by raising tax rates. And this is supposed to be better than what we’ve got going on now?
While I may not be a fan of Mr. Obama, tossing government regulations and agencies out the window and declaring some kind of war on revenue collection is far from being the answer. Weakening government to the point that it has no authority to regulate is not the solution. If corporate America knew it could drill baby drill with abandon you can believe disasters like oil spills that devastate our coastlines or explosions that kill mine workers will become a lot more frequent. Then again, that may be part of the plan. Make these disasters so common that people won’t mind so much when they happen. Food poisoned from the likes of e. coli or tainted by some other bacterium or parasite would become a lot more common because we would simply trust that the people we used to call corporations would behave like responsible citizens concerned with the public’s welfare instead of money moguls fixated on profits. We’ve already tried trusting car companies to build safe automobiles for consumers only to find out that corporate management would rather pay to litigate victims of a known design flaw that would cause a Pinto to burst into flames in an accident, guaranteeing a painful injury and a very good chance of a horrifying death, instead of fixing the problem so that no one gets injured. It’s been proven that it is just cheaper to hire a good team of lawyers instead of a good team of engineers. And let’s not forget the conservative candidate who promises tort reform so that corporations can operate without fear of being sued when their service or products injure or even kill someone.
While it is true that we are often regulated to the point of stagnation, too much government at the federal level is not our only problem. In the past year, we’ve seen regulation at the state level enact laws that burden citizens, the flesh and blood kind, with restrictions that appear to deny a good portion of the populace the right to vote without the proper registration well in advance of voting day and/or the right papers. We have seen some states enact laws that demand law enforcers to investigate and determine immigration status with little to no reason of suspicion. And when states run amok, sometimes it is our federal government that is trusted with the authority to put things back into the proper perspective, like when states are hell bent on violating civil rights. We lose that assurance if we allow our national leaders to say that civil rights are unconstitutional.
Yes the federal government is sometimes the problem. But on the other hand, no government at the federal level has also proven to be an even bigger problem. The answer is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The solution is to take a balanced approach that is thoughtful and methodical and not just cave to irresponsible conservatism that is meant to give our corporate citizens, the profit focus kind, free reign to act with impunity. We need to have a more responsible approach to the way we govern ourselves as well as our business environment. Instead of just saying we have a problem with the EPA or the FDA or the CDC so we need to shut it down, why don’t we remember what led to the formulation of such agencies, examine the problem we think we might have at hand, and try to make any adjustments that would be deemed necessary. That’s the responsible way of doing things.
But the bigger problem is that it appears that conservative constituents like the talk of “take no prisoners” conservatism. Too many people are ready to applaud to the analogy of drowning the federal government in a bathtub while ignoring state governments that might be running wild. The pragmatic conservative that might be able to attract people from the left as well as people from the left would never get through all the primaries necessary. Today’s most popular conservative leaders are working to get those tea partiers who want nothing to do with compromise. How responsible is that?