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Thomas Jefferson was a complex and brilliant man, whose contributions to American history, and his own contradictions when it came to some of the most basic issues of his time (slavery, power of the Presidency) still have historians debating until they are red in the face.
Yet, to me, one quote from Jefferson has always stood out from the rest, and seemed to exemplify his most basic theology when it came to governance: “Most bad government comes from too much government.”
I would argue that Jefferson was generous when he included the word “most.” It would seem that bad government is always the direct result of more government, and as Standard & Poor's decision to downgrade the United State's credit rating has been dissected, it would seem that Jefferson's point of view has been all but confirmed, if it needed any further validation.
Now, the decision to downgrade may be political as much as it is financial. Is the U.S. in any worse shape today than it was in January, when the nation enjoyed the coveted AAA rating? Is a financial institution like S&P really all that concerned with the recent debt ceiling debate (as has been claimed) since rancor and partisan divides have been the staple of federal politics for decades? Whether one “buys” that S&P needed to downgrade the U.S. now is fodder for conversation. What isn't is that S&P was simply stating in black and white what all of us have known to be true for years: the federal government of the United States is an inefficient, poorly-run, bloated, expensive, invasive, ever-growing body that does little to improve the lives of its citizens and much to hamper growth, wealth, and prosperity. In other words, the U.S., financially, is a bad bet.
As if things couldn't get any worse, word came on Tuesday that there was suddenly “pressure” for the federal government to act. What that action should be, few know, but it is safe to assume it will include more money spent in an effort to “stimulate” and economy. The problem is, that economy hasn't been “stimulated” by previous spending plans that wasted not millions, not billions, but trillions of American dollars. I don't care how many economists come out in favor of “stimulus” spending now, it will be a very hard sell to convince average Americans that “this time, it will work.”
The common refrain in moments like this is to say that the “system is broken,” yet that puts the blame on an ideology that has proven itself to be the most transformative in human history. Representative government, built on the democratic principle that the citizenry should have control over its own destiny, has reshaped our world from one where monarchies and ruling-class government dictated to its “subjects” how their lives would unfold.
The problem is not with the system. The problem is with the people who, currently, are fumbling and stumbling through every issue presented to them.
No matter what side of the political spectrum one resides, it is hard to ignore this particular fact: new leadership is needed, and needed quickly. Forget about party lines. Separate rooting interests from common sense ones. This isn't about one party “winning” and the other “losing.” This isn't a sport. We, the American people, get absolutely nothing when a politician scores political points.
The problems America and world face are too big. The people in charge right now, with very few exceptions, are not up for the task. That is apparent. It has been for years now. The solution is not to change the system to suit the people. The solution is to find people worthy of the system.
*The New Haven area lost a truly influential journalist over the weekend as long-time New Haven Register sports columnist Dave Solomon was killed in a car accident while traveling home from the University of Connecticut football team practice Saturday.
My first job in journalism was with a group of papers on the Connecticut shoreline that was owned by the same company that owns The Register. As such, I had the chance to meet Solomon twice, both times in passing. Yet, all of the sports writers for our small group of papers spoke glowingly about Solomon, about his sense of humor, his willingness to help others, and his dedication to local New Haven sports. Journalism can be a tough business as there is always competition to get stories quick and first, whether it be a community paper or a large daily. Some of the personalities that you meet in the profession can at best be described as prickly. However, Solomon appears to have resided on the other end of that personality spectrum. The comments made this week by both his colleagues and competitors paint the picture of a man who was genuinely liked and respected, and someone who had an influence on a countless number of young professionals.
I didn't have a chance to know Solomon, but I have no doubt the stories being told in the wake of his death are true. They had been told to me years ago, by individuals who would have had no reason to lie.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, and we, as a state, mourn the passing of someone who brought credit both to his paper and to his profession.