Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Politics of hard choices making democracy in US look bad

American federal government may have a basic management problem—its leaders today don’t seem to know how to make painful decisions. This has driven Fareed Zakaria to wonder whether American style democracy is the problem.

“It's not that our democracy doesn't work; it's that it works only too well. American politics is now hyper responsive to constituents' interests. And all those interests are dedicated to preserving the past rather than investing for the future. There are no lobbying groups for the next generation of industries, only for those companies that are here now with cash to spend. There are no special-interest groups for our children's economic well-being, only for people who get government benefits right now. The whole system is geared to preserve current subsidies, tax breaks and loopholes. That is why the federal government spends $4 on elderly people for every $1 it spends on those under 18. And when the time comes to make cuts, guess whose programs are first on the chopping board. That is a terrible sign of a society's priorities and outlook.”
—Fareed Zakaria, “Are America’s best days behind us?” Time U.S., March 2, 2011

Read more:,8599,2056610,00.html#ixzz1FYhWaotV
This may accurately capture how Washington has drifted into a crisis but, thankfully, doesn’t explain how it usually gets out of trouble. Historically, danger has been met by leadership. Leaders—not great teachers, but great doers—have assumed their responsibilities. That is still possible today.
In quiet times, Zakaria has it right: politicians deliver what they’re told their people want—and the wants of the richest, most diverse democracy on earth are daunting. However, the vast majority of people still elect their leaders to decide—to know better what’s got to be done and to consider wider interests.
In fact, people do expect their representatives to respect the interests of children and future generations, not just vested interests and likely voters.  If this was not so, budgets would never be balanced, taxes would never be raised  and child labour and slavery would still exist in North America.
There is no question about our politicians—including Washington’s—having a mandate to do adult things to entitlements and taxes. There is nothing in the polls to suggest that American democracy—and civil order—can’t sustain tax reform or an extension of the retirement age.
The underlying problem is very unflattering: too many Democrats and Republicans are not yet willing to stop using the big budget items against each other.
However, if they don’t settle down and lead, there will be consequences. France’s 4th Republic from 1946 to 1958 thought it would last forever. It was also full of intellectuals, amateurs, cynics and zealots. It played politics day and night, but couldn’t tackle France’s untenable colonial policy. In short order, it was replaced by President Charles de Gaulle. He once said: “When I want to know what France thinks, I ask myself.”

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