On Courage and Trust

As America stands poised to face another threat to “shut down” the government (as if that would be harmful), while approaching the initial penalties on individuals by unaffordable health care, a few in the Beltway are realizing what we have known all along: It will not work for anyone now and generations not yet born are to suffer for it. To defund it now, when the Act has already secured the majority of its revenue sources, prompts us to ask, where was the stand to withhold the first dime from this assault on sanity when it originally came to the Congress? Where was the courage among our representatives then? The House has been granted the power to grant appropriations by the Constitution. The House needs to exercise the check on bad laws already in its power. Joining in the implementation of such measures, to any degree, only reinforces the lack of confidence in our system to work as it ought.

The Wall Street Journal on July 21 identified the source of the problem as larger than political bickering or failure to be bipartisan. Too many of both parties have agreed on more than they have disagreed so that principles are rejected for political expediency. Few things are as repulsive to Americans as this manifestation of cowardice in their elected officials. The problem is a pervasive lack of trust. When no one stands up and lives consistent with integrity and moral clarity, it is no wonder no one is inspired to rely on anyone in Washington. It seems no institution, no traditional authority, no individual is untouched by either a severe moral failure or dereliction of responsibilities. The aspiring candidate for mayor of New York City is but a small instance of a vast deficit of confidence in our leaders.

The absence of so essential a component to the health and strength of society is not because government has failed to do enough. Government, of both parties, has already done too much. Moreover, government has repeatedly collaborated to reap this historic lack of credibility in it. Fear, instead of a principled courage, has brought us here now. We do not trust government to find the exit of a brown paper bag and once that trust is lost, the collapse of authority is not far behind unless the people reassert their sovereign will.

Former President Coolidge, observing the calamity of distrust in his day, said,

     Fear is not only contagious, but reaches our representatives. It affects the neighbors and has its reaction on the officeholders. That will be the great difficulty with the Congress and with all the state legislatures. Something is the matter with the country, and they will all feel an irresistible temptation to try to provide a remedy. That would be fine if they had any such power. But only the people themselves have the power to work out of their difficulties, which they can best do without legislative interference.

     The trouble is that efforts will be made to save a situation by legislation when no legislation can save it. In general we may expect to see many proposals to increase expenditures of public money when high national and higher local taxes have been a great contributing factor to the present situation. When the country needs the courage and confidence that relief from high taxes would give, increasing appropriations only add to the discouragement. What a refreshing spectacle it would be if a little band of officeholders would announce they were ready to risk defeat by resisting these unsound proposals! The whole country would rally to their support.

Indeed, we would.

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