From Washington to the Wasatch Front, politicians seem to be teeming with a timidity toward asserting and applying the very principles they profess to believe. Many politicians are afraid of their own shadow when it comes to promoting, or voting on, policy. This kind of fear is bad for the country and for our communities because it leads our elected officials to actually spend more time spreading fear of their opponents’ views than driving their own.
This is particularly evident in the current nondebate about health care. Are Republicans really so uncertain about their oft-proclaimed principles of free markets, local control and patient choice that they can’t even share what they will propose as a replacement for the unstable and unraveling Affordable Care Act?
Before Democrats jump in with a big “amen,” they should remember that it was Nancy Pelosi’s fear-driven “We have to pass the bill so we can find out what is in it!” that helped pass Obamacare, without a single Republican vote, in the first place.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should quit talking in circles and put a bill on the floor of the Senate for amendment, debate and votes. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer should step up and admit that Democrats followed a fatally flawed process that delivered a health care system that isn’t working and isn’t sustainable. Both should bring their members to the table for a real, honest, open debate about the future of health care in America.
Schumer and McConnell are two of the most powerful people in Washington. What are they afraid of? They are afraid of losing power and their positions. And far too many on both sides of the aisle fear the same. This fear of losing power is not only at the heart of the health care debate debacle but is an impediment to every meaningful debate we should be having in America.
Americans applaud and admire those who are willing to take risk and step into the arena. Whether it is an entrepreneur risking it all on their belief in the power of an idea, an athlete taking a difficult shot under pressure or the artist stepping to the front of the stage in front of a packed auditorium, their rewards are commensurate with the risk they are willing to take. Too many of our politicians have become so risk-averse that they will never put forward a bold proposal for fear of the possible political cost. Governing by fear leads to every objective being consultant-certified and pollster-approved.
Instead of looking fear in the face, many politicians spend their time casting fear and aspersions on their opponents’ ideas instead of putting forward solutions based on what they profess to believe. The bravado and bombast are just cover to distract from their fear of losing power.
If Democrats are really for helping those in poverty, shouldn’t they evaluate every government agency to ensure they are providing real results that actually make poverty temporary instead of just tolerable? What are Democrats afraid of?
If Republicans really have compassion for those struggling on the streets, shouldn’t they evaluate what the government can and should do for those who are suffering? What are Republicans afraid of? There are countless other examples, including business regulation, military spending, LGBT rights, tax reform, religious liberties and immigration, where we can rightly, and often sadly, see that the fearful political rhetoric of both parties is more about self-preservation than it is about producing results.
As citizens we also have to ask, “What are we afraid of?” We complain and criticize our elected officials for their timid approach yet we never hold any of them accountable. Incumbents are re-elected at a rate of about 94 percent each cycle. Are we afraid to hold them accountable for fear we might lose power or influence in Washington? That is what they tell us. Unfortunately, with our votes we are validating bad behavior. Perpetually re-electing the same people who are playing the same old game to hold onto power is cowardly on our part. We reinforce that it is better to play it safe, hunker down, shout at the opposition and get re-elected than to boldly lead and stand on principle and for good policy.
To paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, "Of all the liars in the world, the worst are your own fears."
The test for the American people is to quit believing the lies of fear. We must challenge our political parties and political leaders to demonstrate behavior that lives up to what they profess to believe. Our true commitment to freedom will be revealed not by what we declare in fear, but by what we bravely do in spite of fear.
Boyd C. Matheson is president of Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank that advocates for a free market economy, civil society and community-driven solutions.