February 3, 2010

Who can we trust?

By Brian Anderson

A couple of nights ago, I happened to be home in time to watch “NBC Nightly News.” I will admit I rarely watch network news anymore. Unfortunately, the national media is no longer trustworthy to present, as Sgt. Joe Friday of “Dragnet” used to say, “Just the facts.”

I firmly believe all of the national news media now report with a bias toward one party or the other. It doesn’t matter which political party you support, you will have a media outlet reporting in a way that courts you. So it is obvious that trusting the media is risky at best.

But I digress. The “news story” was actually explaining that President Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the top leadership of the U.S. Air Force had tried to cancel future orders for the Air Force cargo plane, the C-17. Although this is a widely used and wonderfully performing cargo plane, the administration and the Air Force brass in evaluating the needs of the Air Force found that additional purchases were not needed.

Who then is forcing the purchase of planes we do not need? If you guessed Congress, ding … ding … ding… you win. At least according to NBC News, Congress is the cheerleader of this once-again wasteful spending. You are probably asking, “Why Congress is overriding the military experts, the civilian-appointed and Senate-approved secretary of defense and the president?”

Did you know that all the parts that are put together that ultimately make the C-17 airplane are produced in more than 35 states? And to stop producing this plane, would put a lot of people in many of the state represented by our esteemed members of Congress out of a job. Now, as an economic development professional, I know full well the ramifications of closing plants. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that the last thing our economy needs right now is more plant closings and unemployment.

But what happens to a market economy that is “monkeyed” with for political gain. If keeping people employed is so important regardless of the jobs being needed, why shouldn’t the U.S. government order new carpet for every home and business in the U.S.? We could put thousands of people back to work and actually make a product that is needed by many and would be useful. The president also stated that Congress’ insistence on purchasing these planes would adversely affect our military men and women. Because Congress wants to buy planes that are not needed, other equipment and critical needs by our service men and women could become scarce.

I have already written a column bemoaning the current health care reform legislation. Not because health care doesn’t need reforms, but because those that are writing the rules cannot be trusted. Not only are they not debating all the issues or seeking qualified input from all parties and sides of the problem, they are cutting deals for votes. Some would even argue legal bribery is at play that may be criminal or at least unconstitutional.

Recent elections and failures by the majority party (regardless of which party was in control) have created anger from many American citizens. Most are simply tired of the backroom deal making, the buried pork projects and special earmarks, and other shenanigans demonstrated by the members of our Congress.

The most effective government is the one closest to the people. And although it could be argued that even state government is too far from the checks and balances afforded by the ballot box, it is certainly more influential than the protective barrier afforded our incumbent members of Congress. It is unfortunate we have allowed such usurpation of power by the members of our Congress. I am not sure we can easily shift the balance of power back to state governments.

One recent example of someone at the state level understanding the plight we are in is the chastisement California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger gave his legislature. He challenged the them to ask their federal representatives and senators from California when their state would get a sweetheart deal like Nebraska and Louisiana. All states that did not receive a sweetheart Medicaid package in exchange for their vote on health care reform should seriously challenge the integrity and honor of those who did receive them.

So, who can we trust? Although we know there are honest hardworking elected officials in Washington, the culture is plagued with dishonesty and is generally dysfunctional. How can we change the culture to one of civility, humility and doing what is right for all Americans? One answer could be to shift the majority of the power back to the states where the elected officials are closer to the voter. Another is campaign finance reform. Why does a state elected office campaign cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for someone to seek that office?

And finally another possible answer is wholesale change. By sending new blood to Congress, allegiances to special interest groups and past favors given by them could be diminished. Those with new ideas might be more willing to work with those with different opinions and not hardened by deep partisan politics. And maybe with a wholesale turnover, the seniority system that gives us a Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could actually produce someone from the middle and not the extreme. Maybe we could actually have leadership that could get the work of the American people done.

Who can we trust?

Brian Anderson is president of the Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce.