Editorial – The Real Role of Government
By Bernard Levy
Politics is the art of manipulating facts to the advantage of the elected official speaking.
Politics is the science of ascertaining what citizens need and want, but then working hard to give lip-service to their requests and give them something less desirable and often what they don’t particularly care about.
Politics is the mechanics of positioning a politician in the public eye to gain favor and acceptance, helping to ensure that the politician will remain in office.
To quote that past sage of the political scene, Will Rogers, “A man’s thoughts are naturally on his next term more than his country.” And, following that observation logically, he offered, “Once a man holds public office, he is absolutely no good for honest work.”
This combination of art, science and mechanics is getting nastier, more polarized and more distant from what government and elected officials’ jobs really are. Do you want to know why this is happening? It’s quite simple: most politicians cannot agree what services government should provide. As strongly communicated in the film “Cool Hand Luke,” “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
Let’s define what government’s job is.
We’ve identify four categories in the term “public:” 1) the general populace – those ordinary Janes and Joes – who make up the majority of us and constitute the “workforce” employed in both private industry and government; 2) the industrial and commercial complex. These include corporations, both profit and nonprofit, and government; 3) the upper echelon of society, those individuals and families that range from the upper class bordering on considerable wealth, to the overwhelming wealthy people, usually the gated-community types. Although these people can financially fend for themselves, they have the clout and desire to seek as much assistance from government as possible in order to hold onto as much of their wealth as they can. Of course, there are exceptions to this categorization, but this group is constantly concerned about the quantity of their wealth; 4) Those persons and families who fall in the lowest socio-economic strata and include welfare recipients, the disabled and those who simply cannot work for whatever reason, are advanced in years and living on the mercy of social security and assistance, the homeless and the unemployed who seek to find employment but are unsuccessful.
Now, the key to defining the services that government should provide is to identify the needs and wants of the four categories above. The definition for determining what government services the public should receive varies somewhat when we discuss state, county and municipal government activities as opposed to the federal government.
In considering only the federal government, it must provide for our safety and protection from other nations and individuals who seek to harm us. This is a given. However, the strategies, tactics, programs and costs that the federal government employs to provide these services are usually the subjects of debate and differences.
The American public needs the federal government to ensure an equality of treatment and consideration for all Americans, such as enforcing our Constitutional guarantees including the right to vote and the right to be protected from persecution for differences in gender, age, race, religion and disabilities. These areas have created the most polarity between our two major political parties and their various factions.
It took both legislation and landmark court decisions to eradicate racial and gender discrimination. It also took federal legislation to provide persons with disabilities and give them access to public services, facilities and employment opportunities.
The key to reasonable legislation, supportable under the law, is for the legislators and the president to think beyond election terms. Life does not exist in two, four, or six year terms, except for the political lives of officeholders. The failure to provide for adequate medical care today for those in need will cause those persons to seek emergency medical aid, which will increase the cost of health services. For the want of an effective prosthetic device, such as false teeth, a person can develop intestinal problems caused by the inability to properly chew food, which could easily result in many tens of thousands of dollars of medical care that could have been prevented by a simple new set of false teeth. Legislators think in terms of immediate budget considerations, not longer-term taxpayer cost realities.
It is clear that the four categories comprising the “public” expect different things from government. Legislators need to heed a lesson from the grade school teacher who instructs students in learning fractions; often to solve a fraction problem, you must find the common denominator. That’s a start in government. Usually, the primary issue focuses on cost of government and how that cost is to be divided among the various necessary services. Make no mistake about it; we at The FCP strongly believe in a balanced budget, both federally as well as locally, regionally and statewide. Accompanying that conservative fiscal philosophy is the need to provide the funds necessary to fully do the jobs that government should be doing, including oversight, research, inspection and implementation of the law. Government, as well as business organizations, must run effectively and efficiently. Unfortunately, government does not have to account to its shareholders as corporations do. Yes, I know; the shareholders of federal government are its taxpayers, the electorate. However, the electorate’s interests are subject to the powerful lobbying efforts which often defeat good government.
Government has to call a shovel a shovel; if the need is present, it should be fully funded. The excuses often given for not fully funding projects are that the government is wasteful and the legislators do not know whether the funds will be honestly and reasonably used. That, of course, is specious and fallacious reasoning; the legislators should provide the oversight necessary to ascertain that the funds are so being used.
And so it goes. If the conservatives are interested in conserving our tax dollars as much as possible, then they should be less interested in pork barrel legislation and effectively overseeing the workings of government. If those interested in providing effective human-designated services, then those advocates should be interested in seeking the most effective and efficient way of serving the needs of the people. Government is not an easy job, but it can be made much easier if the participating legislators and administrations would approach the questions presented honestly and directly. No more rhetoric without substance; no more actions without meaning. Let’s hope that the fresh air blowing into the chambers of Congress will have a meaningful result.