Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Obama's comment had a familiar ring

At Monday's press conference, President Obama championed a higher debt ceiling. Mr. Obama says Americans simply don't understand the complex issues of government. His comment came after a question from a reporter.

The White House transcript has the exchange:

 Q:  The latest CBS News poll showed that only 24 percent of Americans said you should raise the debt limit to avoid an economic catastrophe.  There are still 69 percent who oppose raising the debt limit.  So isn’t the problem that you and others have failed to convince the American people that we have a crisis here, and how are you going to change that? 
 THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let me distinguish between professional politicians and the public at large.  The public is not paying close attention to the ins and outs of how a Treasury option goes.  They shouldn’t.  They're worrying about their family; they're worrying about their jobs; they're worrying about their neighborhood.  They've got a lot of other things on their plate.  We're paid to worry about it.  
The comment by the president had a familiar ring. 
A similar theme was echoed in a book I read many years ago as a freshman at Madison College (now JMU). In Milton Mayer's They Thought They Were Free, he describes the rise of the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s. The people were told government issues were too complex. Government should be left to the professionals. I still have my freshman copy on my bookshelf. Here's an excerpt from page 166: 
"What no one seemed to notice," said a colleague of mine, a philologist, "was the ever widening gap, after 1933, between the government and the people. Just think how very wide this gap was to begin with, here in Germany. And it became always wider. You know, it doesn’t make people close to their government to be told that this is a people’s government, a true democracy, or to be enrolled in civilian defense, or even to vote. All this has little, really nothing, to do with knowing one is governing. 
"What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it. 
"This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.
I grow tired of today's crisis driven American government. It's a government that grows more out of touch as it kicks the can down the road. What politicians have done in recent history is to create a American  government that lives beyond its means by incurring debt, in part, to buy influence with constituents. And as it grows, government and its bureaucracies become ever more detached from the people it purports to represent.

Today, our politicians may champion their complicated model, but even simple voters can see it's a model that's unsustainable. Meyer's book shows just one example. We have history to show us what happens when politicians are left to assemble their overly complicated governments and bureaucracies. We must stop ours, and insist on accountability, while we still have the ability.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent memory and connection of ideas Mr. Rink! That is the single most powerful blog entry I have ever read and I have ready many tens of thousands of them. Well done even if it is terrifying.