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Eat Your Vegetables

Sean Evans, Chair and Associate Professor of Political Science
Jan 4, 2010

                My mom had a simple rule at the table: no dessert unless you ate your vegetables. So I would hold my nose, stuff them in my mouth, and chase the vegetables down with milk so I could get the good stuff – dessert. Mom knew that while I may not like them, vegetables helped me grow up healthy. And desserts, while tasty, were bad for me in large quantities. So she needed, and found, the right balance.
                But that balance is exactly what we are missing in our politics today. We all want to eat dessert but just keep the broccoli away. We want the good things that government can provide like health care, security, clean air, quality schools, and good roads but we don’t want to make the difficult decisions to fund and reform the services because it will hurt us. And so we pay the price of an unhealthy government and society.  
                We want low taxes and plenty of services so we have large government deficits and a $12 trillion debt. Large deficits mean we need people to loan us money so we borrow and thus fund China’s rise as our leading competitor in the 21st Century.
                Future generations face higher taxes or greater benefit cuts because we refuse to reform an untenable Social Security system. We want universal health care but not if it raises taxes or rations health care.
                We want cheap gas so we pursue policies that fund people who try to blow up our airplanes and kill our soldiers. We want to own the largest, most expensive home possible so banks loan more than people can afford resulting in the mortgage crisis.
                 We want quality schools but complain about linking funding to student performance. We want to break the cycle of poverty and culture of despair but we refuse to reach out because it is inconvenient or we expect someone else to do it.
                We want free love and end up with high teenage pregnancy rates, 1.2 million abortions a year, and a high STD rate. We want a decent society but we act in ways that undermine morality.
                And when things inevitably go wrong because we refuse to eat our vegetables, we act surprised and blame our political opponents, special interests, and/or the political elites. And they are to blame, especially the political elites. Our political leaders know better but refuse to admit the obvious or insist on the vegetables for electoral and/or ideological reasons and so perpetuate the idea that we can have our cake and eat it too.
                But in the end, Pogo is right: “We have met the enemy and it is us.” Politicians can do this because we let them. They are responsive to us and will change if we insist they do.
                Change requires citizens taking an active role and electing problem solvers willing to tell us what we do not want to hear. Things like we need to reduce the size of government and increase revenue so we can begin to run surpluses to reduce our debt and the first step toward this is reforming our entitlement programs, the largest part of the budget.
                Energy independence, whether by drilling, increasing energy efficiency, and investing in alternative energy, will result in higher prices. Affordable universal health care requires greater personal ownership of one’s health, a more transparent, competitive health care system, higher personal costs, fewer procedures, tort reform, and lower payments to providers. Government can provide money to the poor but only individuals, community groups, and churches can provide hope and change lives to reduce teenage pregnancy, stabilize families, improve education outcomes, etc.
                This culture change should then result in greater corporate and union responsibility and accountability, a media focused on informing people rather than entertaining them, and a stronger civil society as we treat each other with respect.
                So as you celebrate New Years Day and eat your hog jowls and black eyed peas for luck, take an extra helping of peas. We need to eat our vegetables, figurative and literal, to ensure a healthy 2010 and beyond.

 

This article originally appeared in the January 1, 2010 edition of the Jackson Sun