Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Can't our government get anything right?

Whichever party's in charge fumbles the basics -- security, health, infrastructure. Why are we paying these people?

I have a confession to make. I have been suffering from painful flashbacks lately. Memories of the 1970s force themselves, unbidden, into my mind. Memories of the high school assembly where we students were handed WIN (Whip Inflation Now) buttons.

Grownups who were unable or unwilling to take the policy measures necessary to reduce inflation told us children that price inflation was our personal responsibility, just as similar cowards and charlatans today tell us that addressing global warming is a moral responsibility of ordinary people, not a technological issue to be resolved by governments and utilities. I remember the U.S. retreat under fire from Indochina under President Gerald Ford and the debacle of the Desert One mission to rescue the American hostages in Iran under President Jimmy Carter.

And then there is the most painful memory of all: the killer rabbit. On April 20, 1979, a White House photographer captured an image of the beleaguered President Carter using his paddle to fend off a rabbit as it swam toward his fishing boat in Georgia. The photo was suppressed until the Reagan years, and Carter's press secretary explained that the creature was a ferocious "swamp rabbit." But headlines like "President Attacked by Rabbit" gave a comic spin to the widely shared feeling that the U.S. government had become feeble and ridiculous.

I've got those killer-rabbit blues again. And I'm not the only one.

Some Democratic partisans have claimed that the pathetic, lobby-written healthcare bill is the greatest expansion of social insurance in the U.S. since Medicare. Possibly true, but so what? Passing the greatest social reform since the days of LBJ is easy, like being the greatest novelist in Lichtenstein or the greatest tap dancer in Mongolia. There isn't much competition. Since the 1960s our increasingly paralyzed Congress seems to have become incapable of enacting any reform that isn't trivial, or botched, like the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, or corrupted beyond recognition, like the healthcare bill.

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