I spent over 30 years in and around government, working in the White House, the US Senate, and as a lobbyist both for a non-profit advocacy group and corporate clients (Check out Doug’s File for more). That doesn’t make me an expert, but it does give me some insight into how Washington works and why it often doesn’t. Like everyone, I have my own point of view, opinions and biases.
Here’s what I believe:
Government is brimming with good intentions.
Most everybody I’ve ever worked with came to Washington for all the right reasons. They have strong civic spirit, believe in public service and hold what they believe to be the country’s best interests at heart. That’s true both of people with whom I agree and with whom I’ve disagreed. The first lesson I learned in Washington is that some of the people whose views I oppose are genuinely good and decent; the second is that some of the people I agree with are real assholes.
Government is overrated.
Because I believe that pretty much everybody is well-intentioned, I’m not a cynic. Because I believe that well-intentioned people often yield to the conceit that they know just how to set things right, I am often a skeptic. Most people assume that if government establishes a program in response to a problem, the program is solving that problem – or, at least, contributing to its solution. I’ve learned that often ain’t so. Poverty rates, for example, stubbornly climb as anti-poverty programs multiply. That’s not because the people who created these programs are foolish or insincere or the people who run them are lazy or incompetent. It’s because there’s a chasm between what government intends and what it achieves. The unintended consequences of government action almost always outrun its good intentions.
Government intervention is sometimes the only solution but it is rarely a good solution.
I am not a libertarian because I believe there are things government should and must do. I am not a liberal because I do not believe that government can allocate goods and services more efficiently and more fairly than can markets. I am a conservative because while I recognize a larger role for government than do libertarians, I share their view that government grows at the expense of liberty.
Our politics are too small.
But I’m a conservative who believes that neither party can explain, much less resolve, our current economic predicament. Despite unprecedented efforts by the Federal Reserve (holding interest rates paid by banks to zero for nearly five years and counting, buying $85 billion in government and mortgage-backed debt every month) to spur growth and “stimulative” fiscal policy (highest federal deficits since WWII), the economy continues to sputter and labor force participation rates remain near 30-year lows. Neither tax hikes advocated by Democrats nor spending cuts favored by Republicans seem likely to spur economic growth that will create jobs and raise living standards. I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m pretty sure that our leaders don’t either.