Press Talk: Our biggest problem is …

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian editor

Published:

 
photoLou Brancaccio, Columbian editor

What's Lou talking about?

Click for a recent Gallup poll on the most important problem facing the United States.

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”

This famous quote first appeared in 1970 and was coined by Walt Kelly, creator of “Pogo,” a still-famous newspaper comic strip.

I thought about it when I saw the results of a recent Gallup poll asking what was the most important problem facing the United States.

It wasn’t the sluggish economy, or health care, or even unemployment and jobs.

The answer was the government.

More specifically: “Dissatisfaction with government/Congress/politicians; poor leadership/corruption/abuse of power.”

Oh my!

Now, think about that for a second. The lousy economy most of us are facing ranks behind what our politicians are doing. In other words, runaway health care costs are bad. The economy is badder. But government? It’s the most baddest of all.

Hey, who knew? Well, OK …

Do you think politicians have met the enemy? Do they think it’s them?

So, what is it that’s bugging residents? This ain’t no novel, so we can’t go into all the reasons. But I’m pretty sure about one.


We just ran an unscientific poll asking readers what they would like to see our state legislators do. Options such as improving transportation and fixing the way we fund education were offered. But what garnered the biggest response?

Keeping politicians’ hands out of taxpayers’ pockets. More than 65 percent said that!


I was watching a C-Tran board meeting this week, and there was this debate about the word “enhancing.” They were working on some process-type statement that surely will be shipped off to some other government agency for more processing. They were trying to figure out if this process paper should say they want to “enhance” bus service or “maintain” bus service. Hey, that’s what politicians do.

But, really, that wasn’t the point to me. What was important — what should be important to all of us — is whether government should be in the enhancement business or the maintaining business.

On the surface, enhancing or improving our lives should be a real goal, a no-brainer for government.

But the devil is in the details.

Most of us will never need a cop or a firefighter … or a bus, for that matter. Still, most of us would agree that we all should pay something to have those services available to those who need them.

But back to that devil.

Politicians generally believe their primary goal is to enhance the stuff they’re involved in. Enhance firefighter pay, enhance the place where city employees work, enhance bus service.

But there are others who would argue the government shouldn’t be in the enhancing business. Government should be in the business of maintaining a reasonable amount of service for those who need it. A reasonable amount!

Look, I do not believe government should simply maintain. Those who say we should simply maintain are just as wrong as those who say we should be enhancing.


So what’s the problem with government enhancing stuff? Well, you have to figure out where the money will come from for those enhancements. And that usually results in digging deeper into our pockets. Oh, some politicians will tell you they’ll just put their thinking caps on and figure out a way to do it without more money. Yeah, right.

So what’s the problem with simply maintaining? Well, the world does move forward. If one is stuck in just maintaining, you will fall way behind in a hurry.

So what’s the solution? Well, it’s embracing that word “reasonable.” Look, government maintains a critical role in our society. I believe there are a bunch of very bright people who are elected to office and who work in government. But many of them just don’t get it. They are living in a surreal world where money is never-ending.

Here’s the deal. Liberals want to spend too much and conservatives want to spend too little.

No one knows how to be reasonable. No one wants to find the middle ground.

We have — indeed — met the enemy and it is — indeed — us.