Monday, January 7, 2008

Not all "Change" is Good

By Alan Caruba

Americans have become drunk again on the notion of change. This happens every four years when some candidate says they are going to go to Washington, D.C., and change things there. Usually that politician lives in Washington, D.C. most of the year. The one thing anyone inside the Beltway knows is that changing the federal government may well be impossible.

The federal government is where truly bad ideas become entire departments with Cabinet Secretaries and vast staffs all conjuring up new “programs” in order to avoid losing a dime of the budget allocated to them. If you don’t spend it, some other department will get it!

Spending money is what Washington, D.C. is all about and, with a $13 trillion economy and the “skim” we call taxes, that means there’s lots of money to spread around. Government is a major industry and, worse, one that can destroy other industries. It can legislate you out of business.

That’s why all that gassy talk about Big Oil, Big Pharmaceuticals, and Big Insurance is scary. Those are industries that employ lots of Americans, provide goods and services to lots of Americans, and are not in business to piss off lots of Americans.

So here we are trying to choose a new leader, a President whose job is described and limited by the U.S. Constitution. He has veto power. He has to report to Congress on the state of the Union once a year. He is the Commander-in-Chief of our military. And he is mostly in charge of foreign policy. He is the third leg of a three-legged stool called the federal government. He must share power with Congress and the Supreme Court.

Thus, the President, no matter who he is, has limitations on how much change he can bring about and, when you are dealing with something as vast as the federal government where thousands of federal employees can pretty much ignore you if they choose, you must depend on department and agency heads to steer the behemoth as much as possible where you want it to go.

Even Barack Hussein Obama must know that. Surely Hillary Rodham Clinton does. So does John McCain and even big ole’ Fred Thompson. If elected, Mitt Romney, who has been a Governor, might find a few surprises by comparison.

The United States of America is in serious financial trouble and that is where change must be focused and where it is least likely to be, given the capacity of Congress to ignore the problem.

For thirty-one of the last thirty-five years, the U.S. has spent more on government programs and services than it has collected in taxes.

To cover the difference, the government borrows money and right now the debt is around $9 trillion.

I often write about the tyranny of demography. It’s not just how many people live in the United States or sneak into it illegally, it’s how old they are as well. An entire generation of “Boomers” is retiring and will need more medical care. That fact alone means that by 2040 every last dime this nation collects will not be enough to fund Social Security and Medicare, and all the rest of the programs it currently funds.

Lastly, a lot of our national debt is held in foreign nations and, if they decide the U.S. dollar isn’t as solid as it has been, they might just decide to put their money in China or the European Union as a safer bet. These days, millions, if not trillions, move electronically at the speed of sound every day.

And here’s where it gets really difficult. These programs came out of Democrat administrations and reflect Democrat values, casting a big safety net for Americans. Even Republicans like George W. Bush added a prescription program that costs billions more. It’s one thing to send out those checks every month and quite another to make the reductions to the federal government and its spending frenzies that will be needed to insure the money is there.

Sometimes, like 9/11 change is thrust upon a nation. Out of that singular terrorist attack, the United States will surely be in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who knows where else in the Middle East for at least a generation or more.

Sometimes change is just one really bad idea like the Department of Education. Nowhere in the Constitution is there a single reference to education as a function of the federal government. I’m pretty sure there’s no reference to Housing and Urban Development, but we have a department for that, too. The former has ruined the nation’s educational system and the latter is a sinkhole of badly conceived projects.

So, yes, change is needed, but it will not be the kind of change most Americans want. And it will not be the kind of change anyone running for President is going to talk about.

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