Friday, August 14, 2009

A Third Way

My last blog was a polemic against the totalitarian tendencies I see in the current administration.

Today I want to offer a way forward for our nation that draws on the brilliance of our Founders and the ingenuity of today's citizens. I still believe that the USA is the greatest experiment in freedom and that we do not have to change our foundational principles to continue this adventure into the 21st century.

In all the debates on economics, health care and infrastructure, we are forgetting one Constitutional principle and one lesson from our history.

Our Constitution clearly enumerates the limits and responsibilities of the federal government. All other prerogatives and rights are left to the states or the people (Amendments 9 and 10).

Why does this matter?

For 80 years the influence and power of the federal government has been overtaking the responsibilities of local and state government and well as individual citizens. It is one thing to defend the inalienable rights of millions (the Civil Rights Movement); it is quite another to legislate services as rights.

The federal government exists to protect us from foreign attack and secure our basic natural rights. It does not exist to provide all the goods and services we need. From our founding, political leaders have argued about the scope of government. The Hamilton-Jefferson debates are profoundly important. Neither of these men would be happy with the power and size of our current federal system.

Our President does have a bully pulpit - to influence citizens, local and state leaders to do the right thing on a number of issues. Congress can mandate ethical oversight of a variety of arenas. These hortatory and regulatory actions are consistent with our Founders' vision. What is tragic about today's federal system is the amount of inefficient and oppressive agencies. George Will was right when he argued that much of government seems to exist for an academic class that cannot make it in the real world!

What we need is a serous public dialogue on how local and state governments can provide the services that their citizens deem important. It is OK if there is a difference between the policies of Missouri and California. People in power forget that their budgets come from real money earned by real people.

Mayors and governors need to sit down with health care providers, corporations and public employees and create viable solutions that fit the particulars of their region. The federal authorities can help by providing ethical oversight and - please note this - resolving the immigration issue!

If we removed the illegal immigrants from California prisons, we would have no overcrowding issue and we would solve some of the budgetary problems. If we create a legal process of assimilation toward citizenship and/or guest worker status, we can improve fiscal health nationwide and be fair to those who want a chance to be part of our great nation. Of course, unscrupulous Democratic politicians who want cheap votes and unethical Republican business leaders who want "undocumented" labor must be called to account!

The historical principle that needs revival is private-public partnership. It is possible to make money and offer reasonable services. It is possible to deploy brilliant entrepreneurs to solve our infrastructure issues without capitulation to rapacious capitalism. Again, local and state governments need to solve most of our issues. Federal "cap and trade" will only stifle our economy and force more people to become dependent on government largess.

Democrats and Republicans share equal responsibility for the issues confronting us. Both parties have forgotten their basic principles - principles embodied in leaders like Eisenhower and Truman. We can have ethical oversight of free enterprise. We can have lively but civil debate on issues. We can oppose all forms of totalitarianism at home and abroad while being accountable for our actions. We can love our nation and want to make her better at the same time.

We need to argue about the role of government. We need to argue about all types of issues. Conservatives must not assume all advocates of nationalized health care are
Communists. Liberals must stop using the "Nazi" of "Fascist" moniker for all opponents of Barack Obama. Is anyone ready to debate fully the merits of the plans before the Congress? More importantly, are we ready to take personal responsibility to work with local and state leaders to provide the services we deem compassionate?

I am a conservative. I reject abortion, infanticide and active euthanasia. I affirm the brilliance of the free market system. I do not believe, Mr. President, that our Constitution was flawed because it did not address the issue of wealth distribution. The only flaw in our Constitution cost us a Civil War.

More than being a conservative, I am a thoughtful Christian and I believe that we can unite freedom and compassion. We must care for single moms and children. We must tend to the elderly and infirm. We must hold business leaders responsible for their ethics and all health care providers have a moral obligation to offer the best possible services to all their clientele. We must renew urban neighborhoods with the help of clergy, business and civic leadership. We must see the complexity of some issues (like certain farm subsidies) and the simplicity of others (like 99% of abortions).

During these hot August nights I worry that these real issues will be avoided while the chattering classes scream at each other.

Arguments created our Constitution. Civil debate can renew our liberties and unleash creativity. Let's engage for the good of our nation and the world. Oh, and by the way, we have to live within our means.

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