Underneath the underhanded, backhanded, ham-fisted mudslinging of this year's presidential campaign is a choice as a simple as a Texas two-step. Do you believe we would all be better off with much less government, or not?
Recall the twisting of President Obama's statement, that if you built a business you needed roads and bridges, and infrastructure, and that clearly no single entrepreneur could build that, into the Romney slogan "We Built That." This is a dishonest use of a quotation that points to an honest difference.
Business owners large and small dream of "getting the government off our backs." They imagine if only the government would take less of their money in taxes, and remove the yoke of regulation from around their necks, that the economy would soar. They would never need a hand out or a hand up from the government. And if we know anything at all about the psychology of entrepreneurs, it is this: risk-takers all imagine they will be successful, just from the sweat of their own brows. Everyone who starts a business imagines that the statistics do not apply to them. Like serial dieters who know that 95 percent of weight lost is regained, those starting a business are aware that most new businesses will fail. And yet, God bless them, they give it their all, and imagine they will succeed because they deserve it. In their minds, luck or help will have little to do with it.
Every argument held by vast numbers of people will have some elements of truth. Personal ambition is a necessary, if not sufficient, ingredient for success. There are stupid regulations. The tax code is a nightmare too complicated to be understood by most ordinary mortals. I am not so partisan that I believe voters on the opposite side are evil creatures who live only to bleed workers dry and eat children of progressives for breakfast.
However, I have just spent the past two days without electricity. We have been very lucky here in semi-rural, non-coastal Connecticut. Others have had it far worse. But this has been just enough of a disruption to remind me how much our lives are predicated on a long chain of interdependence.
So, if you think you "built that," mazel tov. I salute your entrepreneurial energy. But when disaster strikes, you cannot re-build that! You will need me and my tax money, even if you're a wealthy guy with a second home on the Jersey Shore. And you sure as shooting will need my tax money if you're a working-class homeowner who lost more than luxury digs or a yacht.
We are the United States of America for a reason, and those who would outsource FEMA to state governments need to take a sharper look at what that would entail. States have to balance their budgets by law. They are unable to run deficits. When natural disasters strike, what will state governments do under a libertarian Republican government? Under the libertarian Republican philosophy, even Medicare and Medicaid would be returned to the states as well. These are slow-moving disasters waiting to happen, as the baby boomers continue to age, and cash-strapped state government may be forced to choose between cleaning up after a hurricane and paying for granny's care in the nursing home.
There are smaller disasters that happen every day. Kids who work hard and want to go to college, who could not afford to go without Pell Grants. Single Moms trying to be self-sufficient in low-wage jobs who literally could not feed their kids without the tax break of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which makes them part of the infamous 47 percent who pay no federal income taxes.These are the natural disasters of being born into a family without wealth. These are individual "frankenstorms" of bad luck or poor timing. If everybody got what they actually deserved in life, Donald Trump would be applying for disaster aid to rebuild his small business currently underwater in Hoboken, and the nuns who taught me to read and write would be living in his mansion.
After all of the ink and insults spilled, and all the rants have been ranted about gaffes and Libya and who did or did not wish the American auto industry dead, there is a simple choice that we have all been reminded of, and the reminder was written in wind and water. Governor Christie gets it. We will see if the voters do.
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