The 2012 United States of America presidential election is still 12 months away but insanity that is the campaign process has already been in motion for months. Over the past several weeks, the GOP hopefuls have been holding a string of debates on the “big” issues like the economy, foreign policy, social issues, etc. In a now infamous-flub-and-possibly-campaign-ending moment, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas forgot the third of three government departments he would shut down if he were elected president.
As head-slapping and brain-aching a moment it was to see a possible candidate for the most powerful position in the world mess up a key policy point so badly, it at least led me to find what I think is a pretty good analogy for what the GOP/Tea Party’s approach is to solving our country’s many problems.
Say you’re driving to work and suddenly your car sputters and quits running:
Oh no! Well, this isn’t good. After screaming some choice imprecations, let’s try to figure out why the car broke down. There are several possibilities, among them:
A) Something totally unexpected found its way in there and messed something important up (dead mouse, toy your kid accidentally dropped in while you were cleaning out the leaves that got stuck under the hood)
B) A key system was defective all along and it wasn’t until you hit that huge pothole that it got shaken loose and finally took down the whole engine
C) An internal combustion engine is a complicated piece of machinery with many working parts that needs regular maintenance to work properly and reliably, and years of neglect and ignored warnings (damn those “check engine” lights) led what was a perfectly good system to ultimately break down
As you can guess, I’ve ordered those possibilities from least likely to most likely. Given these possibilities and what we know of mechanics, let’s now try to find a good strategy of fixing the car so we can get to work and earn the money that supports our family. We can:
A) Call up your insurance company and have them tow the car to the nearest body shop (they’re all the same, right?) where a team of mechanics starts working on it. They say one day, then three, then a week, then finally just say you’re better off buying a new car since they have no idea what’s wrong with yours except that it just won’t start. If they had another couple of months or maybe ten more guys they could solve it, but for now you’re just better off moving on.
B) Since there was clearly one or more key things inherently defective in the engine, start ripping out the things you think shouldn’t have been there in the first place. You’re no automobile mechanic, but common sense tells you the thing is just too damn big with several unnecessary parts and if you can just get rid of enough (or all) of them, the car will start running again.
C) Recognizing your car’s engine is one complex piece of work and accepting the possibility that any number of systems could be damaged to various degrees, you avoid any drastic measures and first call your insurance company to explain the problem. You’ve found a mechanic you trust so you instruct the tow company to take your car to “your guy.” You give him time to look over the car carefully and describe any warning signs you might have noticed before the breakdown. He finally diagnoses the problem, recommends some parts that need replacing, and cleans others that just needed some maintenance. You know your car may not run perfectly again immediately, but trust that the mechanic’s work is good enough such that it’s not likely your car will totally break down any time soon. You also schedule check-up appointments and set reminders for yourself so you don’t neglect it so badly in the future.
Enough of an analogy for you?
Every time I hear the GOP hopefuls-
(I can’t call those clowns contenders: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were contenders. They were two titans of near equal merit in which either would have been an excellent candidate for the presidency.)
-argue that cutting this or cutting that (taxes, Department of Energy, etc) is the way to fix our country’s problems, I think of this car. The US economy, US government, US social structure, US everything are complicated systems built of many interlocking parts intricately and inextricably linked to their global counterparts. Yes, there is wasteful spending that needs to be cut off, there are archaic bureaucracies that need streamlining to face 21st century challenges, and there are other parts of government which could probably be shuttered altogether without much damage to the whole. But to work under the assumption, the illusion, that our economy is struggling and our world dominion weakening simply because our taxes are too high, we have too many regulatory safeguards in place, or that our government is just “too big” is, in a word, ludicrous.
What our country needs is sound policy, not soundbite policy. These GOP contestants want to campaign in poetry and govern in 140-character tweets. The United States of America needs a president who actually understands we live in an incredibly complex world and has the humility to realize he or she does not have all the answers or knowledge to govern in this world alone. It is a damn shame the GOP has failed to promote anyone who even approaches the standard the American people deserve.