J. THOMAS TIDD: Partisan Antics Aren't What We Need at This Point
An article by Stephen Moore in The Wall Street Journal of Jan. 9 has been given wide Internet circulation by approving readers.
In it, Moore extols the virtue of Ayn Rand's economic philosophy as set forth in her bestseller of the 1950s, "Atlas Shrugged," the essence of which is that most governmental activities are detrimental and that political salvation lies in unfettered economic freedom.
Consistent with that view, Moore argues, in effect, that the answer to our current crisis is to do nothing. Get the government out of business' way and let the resulting market forces work their will -- presumably through bankruptcies of the financial, auto, and other distressed industries.
It is difficult to see, and Moore does not explain, how wholly unregulated market forces would extricate us from the economic mess that inadequately regulated market forces got us into, and also deal with the ensuing hardships on the legion of unemployed workers.
While "Atlas Shrugged" has a near-biblical appeal to many conservatives, its thesis is wholly at odds with the global economy of today. There is no reason whatever to believe that a nation whose government is limited to the exercise of police and defense powers, and has a market system controlled only by competition and personal ethics, could provide a polity acceptable to its populace.
Ours is a mixed economic system and, absent divine intervention, will likely remain so for the foreseeable future. Although our economy relies for its success on an effective market system, the federal government does and will continue to play a significant role in the economy -- hopefully, in a manner that does not spoil the fruit of a market system.
Because of malfunction in both the government and the market, our economy is sorely in need of repair. In proceeding with repair, the Democratic Party can be expected to fulfill the electoral mandate it perceives -- a task for which it cannot lay claim to inerrancy. For that reason alone, the Republican Party has the minority's obligation to provide responsible opposition -- one that contains assurance of acceptable outcomes on critical social problems such as poverty, education, health care, and retirement.
To date, at least, it has not been shown how adherence to a Rand-based orthodoxy could provide that assurance. Assuming that is the case, and assuming the Republican Party harbors hopes of regaining majority status, it will have to find an ideological home somewhere between the Rand view and the claim of "me-tooism" by which in the '50s and '60s the party's right wing derided the positions of its moderate wing .
Obama has created the position of chief performance officer (CPO), whose job will be to help improve government efficiency and reform budgeting practices. While the nature of the contemplated assault on the status quo by the CPO is yet to be revealed, if history is a guide, there is a very good chance that the effort will result in changes only at the margin.
There is a vast difference between making an existing program work more efficiently and asking the question "Why should the program continue to exist?"
That question exposes the root of the political problem -- every government program has a champion in the halls of Congress. But if the federal government is ever to get off its path to insolvency, it must seek a serious reduction in expenses, a serious increase in revenues, and a serious injection of pain for those covered by benefit programs.
The CPO initiative presents the Republicans with an opportunity to challenge the status quo at a fundamental level. It opens a process through which they can, by identifying the programs and activities they would eliminate, provide substance to their long-claimed desire for smaller government.
If, as he says, Obama is determined to create an operational environment that will ultimately yield fiscally sound federal budgets, he must govern in his first term as though it were his second. He must propose elimination of marginal programs and activities and convince the public that the infliction of short-term pain is unavoidable, and that failure to seek a long-term solution is unacceptable. For Republicans, a damaged credibility will be the cost of continuing to talk about smaller government without identifying the programs and activities they would terminate.
While our immediate economic circumstances are serious, the long-run circumstances are dire. We have reached a critical point that will measure and try the quality of our political leadership. Although responsibility for leadership rests primarily on the president, the responsibility of office also rests on each member of the Congress -- especially on those constituting the loyal opposition.
One can only hope that the antics displayed by both parties in developing the stimulus bill represents the nadir rather than the norm in the exercise of that responsibility.
J. Thomas Tidd lives in Southern Pines.
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