A lot of people are upset by the gridlock in Washington, D.C. I, for one, think this gridlock is one of the best features of American government. Why? Congress is divided — but so are the American people.
If the American people are divided, then their Congress ought to be divided. Because what is the alternative? Half of the people not being represented?
When I hear cries for Republicans to compromise (never cries for Democrats to compromise), I’m skeptical because it leaves a large part of the electorate unrepresented. There are many people who believe fervently in the ideas those representatives profess.
Dismissing political actors as radicals and extremists is not how you solve the present political crisis. Leaving people without a voice is not how we solve our problems.
That is not to say I don’t find it troubling Americans are divided. I do. I’m very worried the division between left and right is turning from an intellectual dispute into visceral hatred on both sides. Hatred has no place in civil government. But we must understand why people are divided and what’s at stake.
There are two broad camps in American politics: conservatism and social liberalism. Briefly defined, that is people who are skeptical of government, utopia and rational planning; and those who are for it. Americans are divided between those who are skeptical of power and those who wish to embrace it.
It is no secret that I embrace conservatism. My belief in limited government is nicely summed up in one of George Washington’s most famous quotations: “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” There’s a lot at stake when using government to solve problems.
Government is the policeman, the judge, the executioner, the military official — government has the power of life and death. Fearful and constrained, we must be with such power. We must be cautious and deliberate when discussing policy, or else we rush into action and use such power irresponsibly.
On the complete other side of the fence, we have social liberalism. Social liberals believe government can improve people’s lives if we make the right programs, pass the right laws and implement the right regulation into everyday affairs.
Central to this thinking is the idea that some people are more qualified to run your life than you.
Social liberalism is an arrogant philosophy. They believe they know how the economy works: they have the right equations and graphs to map out the entire system of millions of individual actors interacting with each other — and more — that they can control it. They believe they know how the entire ecosystem works: that they can pinpoint every chemical, every reaction, every molecule — and that if there’s a problem, they can command all of man and all of nature to solve it. But they really don’t know that much.
Instead, they create a well-intentioned plan that doesn’t take every variable into account, and then there are unintended consequences.
Those unintended consequences range in seriousness, based on the amount of power the mistake possesses: while an employee making a mistake could be fired, a company making a mistake could go out of business, a government making a mistake — hundreds, thousands of people could lose their jobs, businesses could close or people could even die.
Remember, government is force. I know it’s corny, but to quote Gandalf, “Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”
But of course, we need government. We need there to be a protecting force in our lives or else there would be anarchy and mass violence. We need government as a threat against violence. We need it, but we need to realize how powerful a tool it really is.
Its application needs to be limited as much as possible because we might be wrong and a misapplication could be fatal.
This is why I am glad there is gridlock. I would rather government not act than to act imprudently, rather Congress bicker than have a serious rollback of the Second Amendment, than have carbon taxes, than have another disastrous stimulus package.
I, like roughly half of Americans, sleep easier when Congress is out of session rather than in it. I do not hate Democrats; I just don’t agree with their philosophy. In fact, I think it’s dangerous.
Perhaps the nastiness of American politics would end if we came to understand where the other side comes from.