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It's time we took conversation away from politicians

Tuesday, November 13, 2012 - 12:01 am

It's up to us to decide how much government we're willing to pay for.

If one thing is clear from last week’s election, it is that we can no longer look to our elected officials to solve our biggest issue: what this country means and what it should stand for. Government officials are deeply divided on that question because we are deeply divided on it. We cannot keep sending our surrogates to Washington and expect them to achieve the agreements that elude us.

Our divisions and reluctance to confront them cause us to send sharply mixed signals to those who would serve us. As pollster Scott Rasmussen points out (see column at the bottom of the page), the voters “are demanding change, but didn’t change politicians … They’re unhappy with the status quo in the country but left the political status quo in place.”

At some point, we are going to have to forget the politicians, at least temporarily, and have our own conversations about the direction the country should take. If we can achieve consensus, or at least agree to some broad principles, we can at least add clarity to the messages we send to Washington.

Where to start? Perhaps with something most of us already agree on: Two out of three voters, Rasmussen points out, believe the best thing government can do to help the economy is to cut spending. That should not only help the current generation, it should be noted; it will also save our children and grandchildren from crushing debt.

It might seem off that voters obviously unhappy with the current level of government would send the team now in charge of the current government back to Washington. But the fact is that heading into the election, most voters did not think it mattered whether President Obama or Mitt Romney won – nothing much would change regardless.

Sadly, they are right. Do we keep waiting for the perfect set of executive and legislative leaders to come along, or do we thrash this thing out ourselves?

Don’t doubt that it will be a hard job. It will require everybody to give up something. Just as we have run out of other people’s money to spend, we have run out of “other people’s programs” to cut. Government has become so involved in our lives that it cannot be reduced without a reduction in the services everybody receives.

We know the level of government we like – who doesn’t want to be provided for in one way or another? But for the future of this country and the well-being of future generations, we need to decide how much government we’re actually willing to pay for. And that decision had better come sooner rather than later.