Is our nation coming apart at the seams? It would seem so from all of the rancorous rhetoric spewing forth from politicians and the media. Health care reform, bailouts, financial stimulus packages that may or may not have stimulated, proposals to increase taxes, proposals to slash government budgets, a proposal to pass a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ideas to scrap the Constitution or rewrite it using social media, and most recently, the debate over raising the debt ceiling, all contribute to a picture of national dysfunction. Or do they? For my part, I’m not buying that. In fact, I see it all as a very healthy sign for a bright future.
America’s representative form of government, empowered electorate and free press can make public discourse messy, loud, contentious, frustrating and boisterous. To the uninformed, that might look like dysfunction or even disintegration. But what appears to be a weaknesses – loud debate and disagreement on the way forward – is actually our great national strength. And that has been true from the beginning of our nation’s founding with intermittent spells of national angst over states rights, slavery, women’s suffrage, civil rights and war to name a few of the more contentious issues.
The larger debate at the moment is the role of the federal government in our lives. Specifically, it’s about the size and cost of government and very real differences of opinion about the impact a large or small(er) government has on our lives, the lives of future generations and the viability of our country. It is the issue of our times.
Nearly everything gets swept up in the debate: taxes, public employee collective bargaining, education funding, and social safety net programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, to name a few. Even the basic form of the economic system is being debated – unleash capitalism or change to more of a government controlled economy.
Big issues, important issues, emotional issues, so, it should not be a surprise that they are divisive and loud.
But they are just that: divisive and loud. They are not a sign that ‘the end is near’ or that we are fundamentally flawed as a nation or a people. Just the opposite is true: We care enough to debate the big issues of the day and live in a country where that is possible. It’s a sure sign that we are tackling the big issues of our time and will eventually solve them. In the meantime, keep perspective, don’t lose heart. We still live in the best country in the world and have the capacity to meet any challenge that comes our way.
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Here’s an interesting take on this same general issue in the Wall Street Journal.