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King: US family needs more discipline

POSTED: June 3, 2008 5:00 a.m.
One of our politicians, a member of Congress I believe, defended his support for a gas tax suspension by saying that his job was to "... listen to the public and make them happy."

Perhaps it's just as well I can't find that particular clipping right now. No matter which party this man represented, someone would have accused me of bias. However, both John McCain and Hillary Clinton favor the tax suspension.

Both are parents. I doubt that either believes raising a healthy child means keeping the kid happy by giving him whatever he wants. The parent that does that shows poor judgment indeed.

Yet both these candidates have come out in favor of a move that postpones the necessity for restraint on the part of the American public and does so at a time when all indicators point toward crisis.

What is poor parenting on the part of individuals become pandering when practiced by politicians. Parents are supposed to inspire discipline in their children. We don't want a "nanny" state where the government figuratively tells us to wipe our feet and blow our nose, but a government elected by the people is still expected to serve as a role model. It's expected to set standards. The U.S. government is failing on all counts.

The analogy between government and family is worth pursuing. Both the family and the government must live on a budget.

Recently both have taken a similar attitude toward debt: Spend now, pay later. The U.S. national debt is presently more than $9 trillion. A country that goes into debt encourages its people to do the same.

Today, almost half of American families spend more than they earn each year.

"We will not negotiate with terrorists" is a great piece of rhetoric, but consider the family that doesn't get along with its neighbors. Instead of talking out its problems, it issues threats and erects fences. Whatever the provocation, this is divisive and dangerous. It makes the neighbors uneasy.

Playing favorites is not healthy within a family. Neither is favoritism healthy in government. Yet more and more, individuals are placed in high positions based on loyalty rather than competence, and awarded lucrative contracts based on connection rather than free enterprise.

When I point these things out I am accused of Bush-bashing, but I am not just accusing President Bush. Other administrations have done it, too. Nevertheless, just as a child who admits to no wrong and will suffer no reprimand is headed for trouble, so is a nation.

I love my country. I love my children, but I expect certain standards of behavior from my children. I expect it from my politicians as well. Pandering to the public by suspending the gas tax looks to me like the behavior of an insecure parent. "Give them whatever they want so they will love me."

In a certain sense, however, the candidates have my sympathy. The public makes huge demands on them, and all three of the presidential candidates have made personal sacrifices in order to run for the office. But I fear the long campaign has rattled some brains.

After fighting so long and so hard, Clinton and McCain are beginning to make promises they can't or shouldn't keep.

The biggest campaign mistake the elder George Bush made was "no new taxes." He should have known it would come back to haunt him, but it was what the public wanted to hear.

In the end, the public has to share the blame when something goes wrong. On the other hand, the best piece of campaign rhetoric was probably John Kennedy's when he said, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."

Winston Churchill showed the same talent when he promised his people "blood, sweat, and tears." Both men were at war: Churchill in World War II, Kennedy the cold war.

What we face today is a war of a different kind, and I don't mean al-Qaida.

This generation is at war with itself. Globalization, climate change, diminishing resources, increasing demand and the ever-present specter of nuclear war are going to test humanity in a way no war ever has. We need a government that doesn't play one group off against another, one that calls for sacrifice when sacrifice is needed, and then makes sure every level of society pays its share.

In other words, we need a government that behaves like a well-run, well- disciplined family.

Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly and on gainesville times.com. Originally published May 20, 2008.




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