The Role of Government in a Short Term Nation

I thought Obama's State of the Union was decent. He's a good orator. It's nice to know the economy is back on the table since the stock market tanked (as I predicted) and joblessness keeps getting worse. But to a certain extent, I think we all went into it wanting to be inspired but in acceptance that even inspirational words would fall flat on apathetic ears. It's hard to watch these children that we call Congressman and Senators battle for turf like it's a late night game of Settlers of Catan. Seems like there is more at stake. Yes people are dying. Yes people are losing their homes. Yes people are losing their jobs. And that's just healthcare.

The Republican talking points after the speech were somewhat predictable, running off the familiar playbook. But it seemed Obama's preemptive attempts to mitigate their attack script on deficit spending, taxes and the like dampened the blow. Gov. McDonnel kept talking about the role of government with his smug grin.

Now as a libertarian, I generally agree. Get the hell out of my life. But the world has gotten so big and so complex, there are literally millions of ways you are being screwed right now. I was talking with CJ Kettler this afternoon, who serves on a board of a charity aimed at protecting children from harmful chemicals. She is about to petition for reform of an organization that formed in 1970 to ban hazardous substances in New York. In 30 years, they have banned 4 of them. Must be a nice job to have. I can name 4 substances that should be banned right now - diet coke, twinkies, Polly-O string cheese and fat free chocolate. Not that fat free chocolate is bad for you, but come on now!

I tend to like Bill Maher, and I remember on one of his shows he went off on a rant (paraphrasing):

"Why can't we be honest with ourselves in this country? We look around and see increased rates of disease and try to point the finger at a cause, but we all know the truth. America causes cancer. We pollute our air. We pollute our waters. We inject our livestock with hormones, drugs and genetically engineer our crops to withstand shipping and be nutrient-less. We eat and drink chemically engineered products like high fructose corn syrup. And then we are so naive as to say, 'I wonder why we have higher cancer rates than Chernobyl.'"

I agree. It's like what my roommate Brett said last week. "I can't drink diet soda. It tastes like cancer and makes my teeth tingle until I shiver." Ok, the shivering is a bit much, but from the moment I taste diet soda, I knew it was very wrong.

You can agree or disagree with aspartame if you wish, but the reality is that all these companies are incentivized for short term profits. They will try to get away with anything. Most don't care about your long term health, and the 'anything for a buck' attitude means that they will hide any subtle, hidden or long term negative effect for the greater good of the near term balance sheet.

But having a smart government to enforce those laws is difficult in a land of the uneducated. The temptations to reduce meaningful debate into trivial one liners of effective marketing is too great. The desire to do whatever it takes to get re-elected in the short term IS more important than the long term good of our nation. Honor and integrity are gone. You almost don't even remember what they looked like.

Where did the integrity go? It used to be that you could trust journalists. Now you have major "News" "anchors" make up stories about concentration camps after Katrina and no one goes into an outrage. Where's the intellectual honesty? Who are the protectors of truth any more? The short term profits for entertainment news outweighs the long term harm of a misled public. Maybe we should trust the BBC who have less of a vested interest?

We can't take the time to read the fine print of a credit card or loan and how they will jack rates to 30% at the first opportunity. For a major financial decision that could bankrupt you it's probably worth the time. Then again, it's not like I read every license agreement in a software update either. I sign legally binding agreements I don't read all the time. The need for instant gratification outweighs the considerations of long term benefit. And of course we know that we are being misled by all these parties. Yet we can't even legislate basic protections against financial institutions from clearly deceptive and malicious practices. We've come to accept it because the short term lazy acceptance is easier than the longer term fight to reform.

That's because we are a short term nation. A short attention span nation. A short bus nation, if you ask me. And in a world where truth is undervalued, underrepresented and underground, what is the role of government? I would like to say that the role of government is to help represent the truth, but the government can't have that responsibility or you're back to 1984. Some transparency would be a nice start.

We no longer have vision. We no longer have long term goals. What should America be in 2020 or 2050? What is our generation's moon landing? What is our great emotional, intellectual or moral revolution? The role of government should first be to define who we are, what we stand for. It's been lost in the rhetoric and I don't even know the answer to the question any more, if I ever did.

I wish I could present better answers. I wish I could say, "aha, here is the solution." All I can say right now is that listening to the current political conversation makes my teeth tingle until I shiver.