Monday, January 19, 2004

Fiscal Fracas - Making Sense of (Your) Public Money

As we debate political policies and principles and begin a (too) long Election Year, there is one clear fact that must not be ignored by the electorate (that's us!) or the politicos (candidates and their spinmeisters). What is this fact? Here it is...brace yourself for an illumination: "government money" and "government programs" are using YOUR money.

This assertion is not the thesis of a right-wing diatribe against all government spending. After all, conservatives benefit from government just as much or more than liberals do. For every welfare program the Right criticizes, there are subsidies and tax breaks for the middle-class and wealthy. All of these programs should be evaluated; however, my purpose in this brief essay is to move us beyond facile generalizations to a very important personal decision we all must make if we want to have any influence on the future of our community and nation.

We must all realize that our elected officials are put is office by US and are fundamentally accountable to US for what they do with OUR resources we have given them to manage. We get angry at foolish laws and bad fiscal managment - but what are we doing to influence the process? We complain about special interests...unless they are ours, then they are lobbying for righteous causes!

We need an intelligent debate about how we want to use the limited resources that available. How do we balance free markets with environmental concerns? How do we care for the truly needy without subsidizing illegal or irresponsible behavior? What are the most important priorities for our educational dollars? Before the Right cries, "Cut administration costs!" they must define what such cuts involve. Before the Left says "more money for kids", they must explain who gets the money. It is dishonest for the Left to accuse the Right of "hurting children" when they do not advocate increases in social spending. It is also bad faith for the Right to advocate more for the military without streamlining the procurement process that wastes billions.

Will we rise above simplistic ideology and look for values to guide the 21st century commonweal we call America? Our future needs to rest on moral clarity and a mature social vision, not narrow interests or angry sound bites.

Next time: Public Religion

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