Remembering Richard John Neuhaus…Political Polarization: How Do You Deal With It?

A quotation from the late Richard John Neuhaus makes a point that it seems to me applies to many of our current public disputes:

“To look for solutions to these difficult questions is profoundly to misunderstand their nature.  The quest is not to solve but to diminish, not to cure but to manage.  And it is this hard truth that makes so many frustrated, for it takes great courage to surrender a belief in the existence of total solutions without also surrendering the ability to care.”

“Wall Street Reform” will solve, at least for a time, some recent problems, neglect others and make it likely that the next time the Wall Street issue presents itself to the public, it will be over something novel, growing out of some combination of the reform, the neglect and the creativity of people in their work to develop new ways of making money (which is necessary, like it or not, if recovery and growth are to occur).

BP will pay something for the Gulf oil spill clean-up but the real concern remains stopping the spill, learning how to clean-up better and how to avoid such spills or at least bring the risk to some point low enough to justify recovering the resources unless other more desirable resources can be made available before the oil is needed.  And BP’s health as a company employing thousands of people, including, I suspect many who are union members,  having thousands of stockholders, some of which are pension funds, and providing resources that we currently require cannot be left out of consideration.  Being punitive with BP, for those who want that, doesn’t hurt some disembodied legal entity, it hurts some large number of us.

One can see the desirability of weaning the country and world of its dependence on petroleum but there is simply no way to quit using it abruptly.  The future may lead to more use of nuclear energy, a vastly powerful solution with some foreseeable undesirable consequences that can’t be brushed away and may have to be met incrementally, over time.  We may find ourselves putting our faith in future solutions that are not now known.  We have done that through all history and we are not exempt from having to do it now.

Are bailouts preventable in the future?  No, not if the organization bailed out is important enough to enough people, i.e. to enough of “us.”  Future Congresses are not bound by what the present one does, nor should they be.  It’s not just the executives of the companies, the stockholders, the employees, the unions, or the pension funds, it is the collective whole that suffers if major institutions are allowed to fail.  If they are so large that their failure threatens the entire system of which they are a part, then the only entity, however hilariously inefficient and ineffective it sometimes is, large enough and possessing the authority of the collective,  to act is the government.  Being for limited government cannot be a position applied in all situations.  Sometimes it is involved in areas not customarily within its span of action because it has to be, not because those in office want it to be.

What of the fact that we are taking on debts for our grandchildren?  First is that we won’t have grandchildren if we don’t survive the present and second is that we must now develop what will likely be incremental steps to overcome obligations they cannot and should not have to meet.

It is inconceivable to me that anyone could think the prior administration or the present one wanted to take on this debt.  It is, for now, the only way through the storm.  Are items included in the debt that are highly questionable to many of us?  Certainly!  That is how our system works and I don’t know any way to change that negative feature (and its only negative for those of us who don’t see the item’s value) without sacrificing features of greater importance to all of us.

There is much in the Patriot Act that I oppose.  I do, however, understand how, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, such a piece of legislation would find strong support in Congress and the public.  For all that has been said about them, I can imagine that 9/11 burned deeply into the minds and sensibilities of President Bush and Vice-President Cheney and that it will color their perceptions of reality for the rest of their lives.  It would have mine and I suspect it would have anyone else’s.  I think they and the Congress over-reacted and that events since then have demonstrated that.  But I cannot fault them, closer to the action at the time than I, if they can’t see it my way.  What I can do is work to mitigate the effects of the act and I do, through my association as a volunteer for the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (www.bordc.org).

There are insurance companies providing health care coverage to many people, trial lawyers helping pursue legitimate claims of citizens and corporations, senators and congressmen working for their constituents.  Getting angry at groups and shouting will, at best, lead to quick fixes, not reasonably durable solutions.

I suspect that there are no risk-less actions, policies, laws and activities now, nor have there ever been.  Choosing the best solution or the most long-lasting is not always simple.  I worry that many of us have come to think that it is.  I worry that many think simple solutions, shouted loudly, become real solutions.

Does this give all “special interests” a “free pass?”  No, it simply points to the need to deal with the practices we find questionable, uncover the rationales and judge their necessity, steps that ought not be taken in haste or with tempers flaring.  Are there effective and economical ways of accomplishing the same ends without the undesirable results that are inflaming the debate?  If so, they can be chosen, if not, it may be that some undesirable consequences will have to be tolerated.  My strong guess is that many things will fall in this latter category.

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