I recently got a review copy of America’s Way Back, the latest book by conservative intellectual giant Dr. Don Devine.
In a twist of irony, I received the book on the same day that Barack Obama held a photo op with his Cabinet to announce his “vision for building a better, smarter, faster government…” You see, whenever government effectiveness is down in the polls, it’s obligatory for an administration to roll out a dog and pony show and highlight how they’re fixing government.
Obama was particularly animated in the session with his Cabinet, pronouncing to the assembled cameras that Americans are too “cynical.” You should count Devine among such Americans. His book begins with a tour-de-force critique of the failed progressive policies Obama loves, and Devine doesn’t stop there…
The Hallmarks of Our Time
Devine captures the challenge America faces when he writes, “The past several years have been dispiriting for Americans. Economic stagnation, moral exhaustion, and looming bankruptcy have become hallmarks of our time.”
The progressive response to this challenge, as typified by Obama, is to claim that we only need to better organize and centralize expanded powers. Yet in his cheerleading speech the other day, Obama was merely stepping on well-trod ground. We’ve seen this same response for the last two decades when our presidents’ socialist schemes have failed to fix what’s wrong.
In 2001, President Bush created the President’s Management Agenda, which he called “a bold plan to improve the management and performance of the federal government.” Bush was echoing Al Gore’s “reinventing government” plan of the 1990s.
By now, this tired response to failure is wearing thin. Our leaders say their bold initiatives didn’t work because of mismanagement or lack of sufficient funds. But in reality, they’re stuck in a system that’s reinforcing failure.
In analyzing the 2008 financial crisis, progressives say the problem was a lack of regulation. But this is just laughable. Before the 2008 crisis, we had an alphabet soup of agencies that had regulatory oversight of banks. There was the Federal Reserve, the Comptroller of the Currency, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and more. Yet all these agencies couldn’t protect us from the crisis.
In analyzing Katrina, progressives say the problems were “Bush’s fault.” They thought he should spend more money. But in reality, it was FEMA that kept private aid from arriving on the scene. FEMA, as part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), had instituted new security measures. Workers without special clearance were blocked from even entering to help victims. Lots of aid was turned away as a result of these new bureaucratic procedures.
In America’s Way Back, Devine points to an interesting outcome of the Katrina disaster. Within one month of Katrina making landfall, the extensive natural gas, oil, and refinery infrastructure of the Gulf States was back to operating at 90% capacity. The privately-owned electrical grid was operating at over 80% capacity. In contrast, publicly-owned water and sewer systems hadn’t even begun repairs.
Progressives can’t seriously ask us to believe that government is the most efficient service delivery vehicle when such realities exist.
Devine proposes an alternative, a synthesis of tradition and freedom embodied in the United States Constitution. Devine is an optimist, and much of his book draws upon his nearly unequaled grasp of western civilization’s philosophical and political history.
Instead of more regulation and more big government solutions, Devine suggests we return to tradition and freedom. Let the private sector deliver services. Let people make decisions about what services they wish to purchase.
We need to listen to people like Devine who are calling us back to a simpler, less complicated system of governance that allows decisions to be made at the local and state levels. If we don’t listen, if we just doggedly insist that the solution is to re-order, reform, and re-imagine our failed programs, then we’ll end up going the way of the Titanic.
This article originally appeared at CapitolHillDaily.com and is reprinted here with permission.