Demonizing the opposition

2009/03/13

I’ve been noticing lately that the current administration has been using the econimic crisis as a bludgeon to criticize all aspects of the previous administration. President Obama has recently argued that opposing support for his massive new education, energy, and health care proposals amounts to continuing “the same irresponsibility that led us to this point” [1] To the extent that the Bush administration could have mitigated the worst effects of the current crisis by limited intervention in the economic practices that led to our current situation, this is not unwarranted criticism. But a sin of omission is not the same thing as encouraging or actively participating in said irresponsible behavior. The larger issue at question, however, is whether or not we can (or should) lump all decisions together into this ‘failure’ of the previous administration.

Is it irresponsible to favor limited government intervention in our everyday lives? Should the government dictate to us what decisions we should make WRT education or health care? Was it irresponsible to let energy companies determine for themselves the extent of their investigation into alternative sources of energy production? And how are any of these policy differences in the same league as the decisions that bankers and investment houses made WRT the lending practices that led to the current crisis (which, in fact, were actually irresponsible decisions)? Is a difference of opinion automatically irresponsible, simply because the opinions are held by individuals who may have made unrelated (potentially) irresponsible decisions? And most importantly, is the government better than us lowly citizens at determining how the best course of action in our daily lives?

Let’s be clear: if new federal programs are put in place to regulate issues such as health care, energy production, and education, there will be new levels of government meddling in our daily affairs. In some cases, this is not necessarily a bad thing; again, the financial sector could have used some even limited government oversight in their actions. It may or may not have prevented the crisis we currently face, but it is also not guaranteed that said oversight would have been wholly detrimental, either. I’m not so sure that federal universal health care will be nearly as useful; the debacle that occurred after the creation of the Medicare prescription drug programs is not encouraging. In any event, is it not responsible to desire, and even demand, a critical debate on whether or not the federal government should have its hands in these affairs?

Government bureaucracies are a mixed bag. Obviously, they are necessary for overseeing the programs that the federal government operates. OTOH, all bureaucracies automatically inherit two responsibilities whenever they are created: first, they are responsible to the us for carrying out the policy decisions that required their creation; they are also responsible to themselves for ensuring their continued existence. Societal need requires the first set of responsibilities; self-interest requires the latter. Once created, bureaucracies are extraordinarily difficult to disband, in no small part due to their own interest in self-preservation – after all, nobody wants to acknowledge that their job function may no longer be necessary. In light of this, is it irresponsible to oppose the creation of new bureaucracies if one is not convinced of the need that warrants its creation in the first place?

Let us remember that critical opposition is not inherently evil. Differences of opinion are not automatically without merit simply because they are inconvenient. And let us remember that only dictators demand blind and unwavering obedience. A rational society, such as ours should be, should expect and demand critical analysis of the government and its practices.

Notes:

[1]: CNN article, 12 March 2009: http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/03/12/obama.business.leaders/index.html

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