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The Messy Results of Self-Government

You can count on one hand (and maybe less) the number of public policy issues with which I agree with Barney Frank. But in an appearance on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” last week, Representative Frank made some sense.

When asked about what’s wrong with the budget process, Frank said the problem, at its core, is “indecision on the part of the voters.” He pointed out that Congress is not an autonomous instrument that operates on its own; public opinion has a lot of influence. “The public has a question it has to resolve,” according to Frank. “The public wants a certain level of government activity but it wants to provide a level of revenue that’s not enough for that activity.” The main reason we have a budget deficit is there’s “a greater public demand for services than there is a willingness to pay the taxes.” And his hope in 2012 is that we see “a resolution on the part of the public.”

We’ll see what the 2012 election brings. But there’s no doubt the public is complicit in the mess we’re in, and some of its disdain for Congress should reflect back on the polity. Consider politics on a national level since 2008. The public voted for Democratic control of the presidency, the House, and the Senate. Democrats then passed legislation many Americans didn’t like (and none of which was particularly surprising). Then, in 2010, the public — unhappy with the way things were going — registered its unhappiness, resulting in an epic mid-term win for Republicans. As a result, Republican won control of the House. And that, in turn, has led to gridlock, which was the inevitable outcome of the 2010 election. Yet, now many Americans are frustrated with gridlock and the fact that politicians can’t agree on things.

The legendary NFL football coach Bill Parcells used to say, “You are what your record says you are.” Similarly, the American people are what the government we voted for says we are. It’s the result of our hands, our voices, and our votes. No one ever said that self-government was easy or pretty.

 


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