The Question: With a federal shutdown looming, how concerned should Congressional leaders be about the image of U.S. government efficacy their stalemate projects--both to Americans and the rest of the world? Is the image problem enough to warrant a compromise, even if it means abandoning certain principles?
Some principles held by politicians are open to interpretation, like one of Ronald Reagan’s--that government should help those who cannot help themselves. If we accept that principle, we may question who really needs help and how much they need. Other principles demand strict adherence, like “no new taxes”. But most positions taken by politicians are not based on principles but on theories believed by the people who elected them.
On the left is the theory that we can grow the country out of deficits by increasing federal stimulation of the economy.
On the right is the theory that only by cutting government expenditures will we grow the economy.
Psychological research shows that when people hold strong beliefs, they only accept “facts” that fit their theories. However, there are burning questions underlying the debate about the budget, such as:
How much of a welfare state can we afford, and how should we pay for it?
Which national policies promote prosperity?
What is the effect of a growing gap between income groups on our culture?
These questions will not be answered just by applying theories or following strict principles. Tackling them would force politicians to grapple with interests that fund their campaigns. These interests have to do with tax policy and subsidies; the ballooning cost of benefits, especially Medicare and Social Security; and the military budget.
The best we can hope for right now is that political leaders put their theories to one side and compromise for the common good, balancing the pain that will be felt by their constituencies and trying to keep in mind principles like health, safety, liberty, justice and national security---principles that all Americans share, even though we don’t always agree on how to interpret them.
Michael Maccoby | Apr 6, 2011 5:13 PM