Ronald Reagan represented my views. He was my favorite president. My second favorite? Bill Clinton. Even though according to their party affiliations, they would seem to be polar opposites, in reality they were very similar. Just as strange, George W. Bush and Barack Obama share an emphasis on using big government to fix everything, which makes them oddly similar.
If the government got out of the business of making social and moral choices for us, not only would it be more efficient, but legislators would also have more time to focus on fixing the economic well-being of the nation. Milton Friedman was right when he said government has just four roles: it should protect our freedom, provide law and order, enforce private contracts, and foster competitive markets. Government shouldn’t tell you who you should share your bed with, which god (if any) you should worship, or whether or not you should use marijuana. In a free society, people need to make those choices themselves.
The other big problem with big government: overregulation. Paradoxically, underregulation didn’t cause this current financial fiasco we’re in. Overregulation got us here. The recent economic disaster that we’ve just experienced is a direct result of abandoning the core principles of Reaganomics: less government, less spending. Instead, the last Republican administration spent vast sums of money and inflated both the size of government and its red tape. During his time in office, President George W. Bush did things that were fundamentally leftist in nature, such as imposing steel tariffs, expanding entitlements for the elderly, and encouraging home ownership for everyone. Even those who didn’t have enough income to afford a home were able to buy one. And look where that got us.
The United States is a world leader. Democracy, the rule of law, and the rights and freedoms entrenched in our Constitution make us the envy of friends and foes around the world. But if we want this great nation to continue along on this path and if we want to ensure that we are a prosperous nation, we need to get back to these core values and principles: less government and more personal responsibility.
Look at this current recession and the rash of foreclosures: it’s heartbreaking to see so many people lose their homes. Washington wants to blame business, but let’s face it, in many ways government is responsible. The tax structure encouraged and facilitated home ownership even when people couldn’t afford it. Fannie and Freddie fueled the mortgage market. The Federal Reserve created cheap money with low rates. Taxpayer dollars were used to create a system that made it possible to buy a home with no down payment.
The business community, particularly the banks, made its share of mistakes, too: the ratings agencies that rubberstamped mortgage securities did us no favors, and the lazy fund managers who didn’t do their homework and just kept buying junk made the problem worse. But government officials promoted home ownership as if even the unemployed should be entitled to buy a house. Americans bought into this fantasy, thinking that a worker making $45,000 a year could afford a $300,000 home. The mortgage brokers and the banks had a big hand in that, but logic should have prevailed on an individual level. Homeowners need to take responsibility, too. Don’t buy what you can’t afford.
Economic policy truly matters—not just to big business but also to the everyday lives and livelihoods of moms and dads trying to support their families. It is the basis for every aspect of our lives in this country. The government needs to stop trying to command and control the economy, and the government can only be smart about that if it focuses on getting smaller and purges social issues from its agenda. That way the government could emphasize personal responsibility and create a foundation that allows anyone in the country to achieve success.
So people like me—people I call “the great unwanted middle”—are in a real predicament. We have nowhere to turn in 2012 unless one of these parties decides to return to these fundamentals: smaller, not bigger, government and less involvement in our personal lives. I know I’m right when I say, “Whoever wants to be our next president should campaign on one line: I’ll stay out of your private life and out of your pocketbook.”
Text copyright © 2010 from You Know I’m Right by Michelle Caruso-Cabrera. Published by Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed with permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
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