Liberals and conservatives each claimed "decisive" victories this week in Ohio. Liberals thrilled to the rollback of curbs on collective bargaining rights for Ohio's public service unions while conservatives boasted of the majority vote to "opt out" of the Obama administration's health care mandate. Are Ohioans sending mixed messages? I don't think so. They've just proven, once again, that America cannot be governed by extremes.
These votes merely affirm the principles that bind us together regardless of our political leanings. We are a nation founded on the bedrock of the sanctity of individual liberty. By denying public service unions the right to bargain for compensation and work rules, the state was seen as attempting to deny the right to free association, free expression and self-determination. Similarly, requiring individuals to purchase a product of specific design, particularly one as intimately related to the pursuit of "life, liberty, and happiness" as health insurance, would seem to run counter to our founding principles of limited government and maximum personal freedom.
Ohioans have spoken, but only with respect to two specific remedies; the overriding issues remain unresolved. For public service unions: One out of seven employees in America works for the public sector. As a group, their salaries, benefits, work rules and job protections are vastly better than the average of those in the private sector. Their long term benefit packages are largely underfunded and unsustainable. It will remain to be seen what Ohioans and the citizens of California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York and other states (and the cities within those states) will do when faced with the necessity to increase significantly their taxes to honor the prior commitments of self-serving politicians. Will the public exercise their sovereignty to further subsidize their public "servants" or, in an act of collective noblesse oblige, elect to "let them eat cake?"
Regarding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, popularly or un-popularly known as "Obama Care," whether it is overridden by the supreme court, repealed by a future congress and administration, or collapses from its own bureaucratic weight (currently 1,000 pages of regulations and counting) it cannot remotely survive in its present form. Yet, the problems that it was originally intended to address are acute and getting worse. Health care is increasingly unaffordable and Medicare and Medicaid as currently administered are unsustainable. Irrespective of what the constitution may be interpreted to say, Americans want the issue addressed and government is the only institution capable of achieving a solution consistent with our values as a society. While the majority of us do not want the government to "control" our health care, we are not content to leave it wholly to the free market, either. We are adamant that we will not participate in a society where the right to be healthy and, in many cases, to live is dependent on personal economic circumstances.
The solution to these and other pressing issues will not be found by adhering to extreme liberal or conservative orthodoxy. Until we seek common ground and political solutions based on common sense and shared interest, we will continue to stage political jousting matches like the ones recently conducted in Ohio, only to find ourselves back where we started and the problems largely unresolved.