Liddick: The mistrust rodeo
Colorado’s Secretary of State in the dunk tank … and the president promising to “help more people refinance their mortgages” last Thursday. A single element connects these events, seemingly worlds apart; an element that tells us much about why government today is so difficult, and is held in such low esteem.
That element is trust. Or more exactly, the lack thereof.
Secretary of State Scott Gessler, whose office fined the Larimer County Republican Party for campaign finance violations, will be dunked at a party fundraiser whose purpose is to raise money to pay the fine. Although this is not illegal, it is … unusual. And it does nothing to enhance the public’s trust in an office charged with supervising Colorado’s elections. It’s almost as suspicious as a county clerk, re-elected in a Chicago-style “turnaround,” fighting tooth and nail to prevent a public review of the ballots involved.
As for President Obama, promising a major government mortgage refinancing effort that most people following these issues say has almost no chance of coming to pass – not because of Congress, but because of new regulations and tighter lending standards – only adds to the burden of unfulfilled grandiose promises dragging his administration down like a lead life preserver.
Why did the election of 2010 go as it did? Because a very large number of Americans chose not to trust their leaders. In fact, if the challengers had not been so idiosyncratic, results would have been even more lopsided. Why does this freshman class have little to fear in 2012? Because they are a novelty: they did in Washington exactly as they promised they would. And it is a measure of the depths to which we have sunk that politicians who do not immediately abandon their stated principles upon taking office are demonized as “terrorists.”
Trust and honesty are the very foundations and fuel of our republic; when these are in short supply we suffer, individually and as a whole. At the moment, the gauges for both are near zero, as political calculation trumps the national interest.
The good news is, this is not our first time at the mistrust rodeo. Whether we look at the disagreements between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans in the 1790s, between Democrats and Republicans in the 1860s and ’70s, or between the anti-war movement and administrations of both parties in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the fundamental problem is clear: Both sides see the other as working to pitch the nation over a cliff in service to parochial aims.
We also know from our history that crises of confidence have fixes that begin when we speak honestly about our situation. Which is the bad news, because many in our present political class seem unable or unwilling to do this.
Reform of our tax code is necessary. When filling out a small business return takes half a week’s work and degrees in accounting, logic, English for special purposes and quantum theory, it’s too complex (I just threw in quantum theory, but it seems very useful in explaining declining deductibles …). Yes, reform means taxes will rise for some people: requiring 10 percent of earners to pay 60 percent of all income taxes, while almost 50 percent of wage-earners pay none, is a recipe for disaster, economic and political. In the interest of equity alone, everyone should pay something. And yes, if you earn more you should pay more. Within reason.
Cutting the size of government and reducing mandatory spending is a must. In the past two years we have exceeded our historical average tax capacity by about 30 percent, but we still must borrow 40 cents of every dollar we spend. This is unsustainable. Even Zippy the Monkey can see this. That even one of our political class pretends it isn’t simply adds to the level of distrust of government.
There are alternatives to the United States, so we have to be competitive. If our educational system spews out a generation of self-entitled, poorly educated workers, jobs will go instead to highly motivated and educated Germans and Indians, whose countries will reap the benefits. If we indebt ourselves to our eyeballs because we don’t feel like paying the bills we incur, money will flow elsewhere. Ask Greece how that worked out.
So to get out of the hole we’ve dug is going to take hard work and sacrifice. From everyone. And no – there’s no easy way to do this. But we Americans specialize in the difficult. We invented the nuclear reactor. The personal computer. We made travel by jet aircraft commercially viable. Our robot vehicles roam Mars. We put men on the moon, for God’s sake. There’s no doubt we can solve our debt problem, if only we trust each other enough to do it.
Dunk tank, anyone?
Summit County resident Morgan Liddick pens a Tuesday column. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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