Just kick the can down the road
For centuries, philosophers have tried to rationalize the underpinnings of governments. We are supposed to be in some make-believe contract to bond together for mutual security, shared services, negotiating conflict and keeping the peace.
Even in the best of years, our society has struggled to bring a diverse people together to perform its assumed role. Because our system of government is complex, political scientists classify it as status quo, a polite term for doing as little as possible.
Somehow, various crises have come along to force action. First it was the British. Then slavery. Then nationalism. Then European Wars. Then depression.
We approached all of these reluctantly. We had a couple of breakouts in which greed overcame inertia, like the Mexican and Spanish-American wars but in most cases we came when the shooting was over.
Kicking the can down the road has been the primary manifestation of status quo government. For some 200 years, we have been saved in spite of our inability to move gingerly.
As we look at the state of the nation, we now have a government that does less than status quo. The democratic process has driven us into two polarized communities in which ideology has replaced compromise. To avoid addressing our major problems, we have gone a’bickering.
The national debt grows
The finances of the nation are moving into a disaster. With no good economic reason for cutting taxes, our greed surpassed our good judgment and we added another trillion to the debt, capping the trillions needed to bail out a failed economy.
So now our debt will be adding in excess of a trillion annually. This year it will be over $22 trillion; next year $23 trillion, with little hope in sight. Forty percent of our national budget is consumed by interest on the debt. And who is our major lender? Our good friend China. Kick the can down the road.
The earth warms
Earth warming is the big gamble in which we risk the lives of future generations for the money currently in the pot. North Dakota is in the fore of this battle. As we appraise the situation, we look at the new oil money, the good job, the billions in royalties, and prosperity everywhere.
The warnings of scientists have gone unheeded. Rather than accept their conclusions, we raise doubts about the scientific truth. It’s a copout to protect money, a copout that asks the doubters: what if you are wrong? Will you be around to tell your great-grandchildren that it was you? Kick the can down the road.
Millions of innocent people are caught in the unresolved contradictions of immigration policy, if there is one. Even though immigration is the major concern in the polls, the crisis is not heading for solution. Unwilling to compromise when compromise is the only solution, the policymakers are tone deaf and dare not disagree with the polarized leadership. Kick the can down the road.
Life is cheap
Some of us regard abortion as the only manifestation of our disregard for human life. We have a broken health system that costs twice as much as that found in any socialized country. It is obvious that there are too many profiting in the pharmaceutical and medical industry. Half of the population can’t afford the treatment and medications. So they die. Every day they die. Every hour they die. Our policymakers, in true status quo style, kick the can down the road.
Compromise is a forbidden word, preventing solutions for our pressing problems. In the last election, North Dakota sent polarizers to Washington. The compromiser was defeated for being a compromiser.
Do we have a government when all it can do is kick the can down the road?
Lloyd Omdahl is a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota and former political science professor at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks.