Thursday, December 31, 2015


Its resolution season. 45% will make them this week and 8% will succeed at them. Losing weight, getting organized, spending less and saving more are the top three goals people have. I gave up on New Year’s resolutions some time back less out of frustration and more out of a realization that having self-improvement goals shouldn’t be tied to the calendar. A couple I know have a great tradition – on New Year’s Eve they write down their 10 resolutions for the upcoming year. They then open the resolutions from the prior year to see how they did. It’s a fun way to keep yourself accountable for a goal without all the hoopla. As we enter the 2016 political season, however, it’s all about hoopla.

The media – television, newspapers, social media – have covered political campaigns like sporting events for more than a generation. Who’s up, who’s down is more important than what they stand for. The reason why a candidate supports a policy is far more interesting to speculate on than the issue itself.

The country is divided – evidenced by a generation of split elections. The public is frustrated that the division has resulted in stalemate and inertia. Candidates respond to the anger by becoming more determined and firm in their position. We’re in an era of absolutists. The result is a polarized political culture.

Sticking to one’s beliefs is an honorable character trait. Being unable to waver from one’s beliefs is short sighted and will only lead to further deterioration of the political climate and bolster candidates who are long on hyperbole and theatrics and short on solutions. Likewise those who flip and flop on issues with regularity should be examined carefully. (Hilary & The Donald to name just two.)

As a card-carrying Libertarian the example of Social Security is a good issue to evaluate. If I eschewed to the letter of the party line I would exclaim that the Government has no right to take money out of my paycheck to redistribute it later – even if it’s back to me. The absolutists would resolve to eliminate the program altogether and return America to her greatness. “Keep the Government out of my wallet and out of my bedroom!”

In theory the idea should work as there is plenty of evidence from before Franklin Roosevelt that the U.S. thrived with small government, but it’s a practical world. The program has far outlived its original purposes and has become a noose choking federal coffers. After a century the entitlement citizens have adapted and the expectation and investment can’t be stopped. It wouldn’t be fair and would be too much of a jolt to the economy. Altering benefits, upping the retirement age and means testing are all ways to address the excesses of the system today in a practical world with a nod towards scaling the program down. By proposing some of these ideas, does that mean I’ve given up my core principles? Perhaps. I prefer to think of it as taking what I believe in and finding a way to impact the larger issue in a productive way. Winning an argument isn’t helpful, changing policy is. It’s not all or nothing. It’s an incremental adjustment.

Throwing down the gauntlet may feel good in the moment. Just like making a list of things to improve oneself on December 31st. But then a few hours later, hung over, the list doesn’t seem all that realistic anymore and people adjust. Too bad the politicians haven’t realized that the party is over and its time to accomplish something. Happy 2016!

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