politics & government

The United States of America is having an argument with itself

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On the surface, the debate is about economics. Deficit spending, health care entitlements, and taxes all get top billing in newspapers and on television. However, many Americans understand there is more at stake than policy tweaks and social initiatives. They know the real issue is power.

The debate is not unlike the one that took place in the decade or so before 1776. As happened then, two camps are coalescing around broad concepts. On one side are the Royalists, those who believe government has the answers and therefore deserves the authority necessary to implement them. On the other side are the Rebels, who prefer to work out their own solutions and live with the consequences.

In characteristic fashion, it is a heated debate full of hyperbole, name-calling, and outsized rhetoric. Nonetheless, no one, least of all those currently in elected office, should take this as a mere scuffle. That would be the same as mistaking the Boston Massacre as an isolated skirmish.

The electorate is perhaps better informed (and more rapidly informed) than ever. The supply of information is plentiful, and its accuracy can be immediately correlated with various sources. As a result, past methods of political legerdemain not only show poor results, they generate significant backlash.

The interesting thing is not that the public is aware of a Canadian premier choosing the US for heart surgery over his own government-run system. Nor is it a tantalizing tidbit to know how many jobs were not created from a particular stimulus bill. And last but not least, there is no thrill in seeing the national debt clock spin the wrong way at an alarming rate.

No, what is fascinating is how the plethora of information has galvanized the stakeholders.

The Royalists march behind the banner of government as if their mortal souls depend upon the institution, and in a way, their souls are invested completely in the government. They require the government to issue policies and procedures with increasing complexity to manage everything from daycare to what kind of cooking oil can be used at fast food restaurants. Without the government doing these things, the country will collapse, or so they say. Therefore they willingly transfer power to the government to prevent society from going haywire or imploding into a cancer ridden, nicotine stained, intolerant chasm of the ultra-rich dominating the ultra-poor, which is to ignore the power attained by the bureaucratic class who makes all these critical decisions.

The Rebels use the data differently. Rebels are suspicious of granting authority to anyone, especially the government, which they view as already too powerful. They don’t require someone to tell them that not wearing a seatbelt is dangerous or that bacon fat clogs arteries. They make their choices, take their chances, and accept the consequences. The information proves their point as in how a privately run hospital is chosen over a publicly administrated one. If central authority was better, why do those who live under it try to avoid its mandates? At the same time, Rebels are startled to hear how many of their fellow Americans yearn for the yoke of government. They can’t understand why someone would give away freedom.

Twentieth Century American History saw plenty of squabbles between groups arguing over the finer points of the same policy. A little more to this side a little less to that. Now it’s different. The stakes are higher. The Royalists are going for it all, the big fish of health care, industrial policy, and wealth redistribution. In one fell swoop, they want to wrestle ultimate control away from private operations and bring it under the aegis of the Federal Government. They have legions of supporters who are no longer satisfied with a few handouts. Like their leaders, they think they will be better off taking from someone else in the name of fairness, equality, or a more sophisticated formula.

As the current opposition, the Rebels have more to lose as they, generally, have created the means by which the society exists in its current state of prosperity. Rebels across the nation are bristling at this power grab by people who claim to be their betters, who berate them daily as heartless creatures out for nothing but satisfying their own twisted desires, economic or otherwise.

As the fall elections approach, the United States will hear the drums beating on both sides. After the votes are counted, the results may be astonishing, one way or the other, as a nation begins to choose the future it prefers.

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