After Two Years
After two years of this column, our most serious problems still need a different approach than offered by either liberals or conservatives.
by Jerome F. Winzig
As 2001 draws to a close, so do two years of this weekly column. I started it because it seemed that traditional liberal and conservative viewpoints were both sorely lacking, and I wanted to articulate a different vision of civic, political, and religious issues. Two years later, I am as convinced as ever on the need for a different vision.
Most of the issues this column has addressed remain unsolved because conventional viewpoints are blind to their causes or biased about their solutions. Too often, policymakers propose solutions that are either predicated on a failed, big-government-knows-all outlook or are blind to real human needs. To illustrate, let's revisit some of those issues.
Social Security still faces certain financial catastrophe in another decade and a half, yet no solution is in sight. The current presidential commission is paralyzed by the Democrats' willingness to play demagogue on this issue and by the Republicans' abandonment of leadership on this issue in the aftermath of September 11. The sole solution that would most benefit working Americans -- sensible privatization -- is less likely than ever.
Two years ago, the bewildering charges on our telephone bills were a monthly reminder of what happens when big business colludes with big government to bend the state to serve special interests. Today, there are even more phone charges, customer service continues to decline as telephone companies behave as entrenched monopolies instead of competitive entities, and consumers continue to pay for such non-existent but government-mandated services as "phone number portability."
Free trade continues to be a concept that Democrats and Republicans support as an abstract idea but oppose in practice, to the great detriment of the world's poor. In spite of enormous evidence that free access to America's markets provides developing countries with cash income and self-sufficiency while providing Americans with inexpensive products (a definite win-win outcome), the politicians in Washington -- with the support of big labor and big industry -- maintain and expand a bewildering array of trade tariffs and barriers.
Adult Americans continue to evade their responsibilities as citizens and as parents. We want America to be a beacon on a hill, but a CNN reporter -- astonishingly -- asks Afghan children if they've ever heard of Britney Spears, and when they say they haven't, adds, in a titillating tone, "You'd like her!" Isn't it bad enough that our culture encourages adulation of an 18-year-old entertainer who flaunts herself like a slut without trying to export this questionable image to a country already torn apart by Islamic concern about some of America's questionable values? We say September 11 has changed us as a nation, but movie theaters now have to post signs telling patrons that "for their convenience" they can't bring children under six (6!) into R-rated movies.
Our sense of risk remains utterly misplaced. The developing world does not share our obsession about the supposed terrors of bio-engineered foods, but some Americans want to impose their food phobias on the poor of the world. Our news media and government continue to be preoccupied with the threat of anthrax. Since September 11, five people have died of anthrax. During that same time period, some 200 Minnesotans have died in traffic accidents, and a spokesman for the Minnesota Highway Patrol pointedly observes, "Imagine what it would be like if 1.6 people a day were dying in Minnesota from anthrax."
We need a fresh outlook on our largest problems. George Bush ran on a slogan of "compassionate conservatism." The Democrats sneered this was an oxymoron, the Republicans backpedaled, and the President failed to deliver on the idea. As a result, 13 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, there is amazing support for the big-government solutions that led to the immense failure of Communism -- with its enormous social costs. What we need instead are solutions that begin with personal responsibility and concentrate government's efforts on those needs that only it can provide. We face an important divide in our nation's history and the world's. For all its appeal in a time of war and recession, big government and lack of personal responsibility offer less security, reduced prosperity for Americans, and increased poverty for the developing world.