Thursday, January 3, 2013

I'm finishing up a book...

...right now called Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction, by Eric Foner. It's a good read.

One of the main takeaways for me is particularly relevant right now. And that is that the subject of slavery was debated for decades before the Civil War actually took place. And afterward, African Americans didn't really get their full civil rights in this country until about a hundred years later.

Why is this relevant? Because I keep reading about how President Obama and Speaker Boehner wanted a Grand Bargain over fiscal policy but, given the political realities of the moment, had to settle for a much smaller agreement.

Where am I going with this? It seems to me that, just like slavery, this country is in the midst of a decades-long conversation about the role of the federal government. It probably began in the Progressive Era, at the end of the nineteenth century, and continued on through the New Deal and the Great Society. Since the Reagan years, there has been a reexamination of the Welfare State and the "dialogue" continues to this day.

The president, of course, would like to see a larger role for the federal government. The Republican-controlled House, meanwhile, would like a much smaller one. And the Senate? Well, it takes sixty votes to get anything meaningful passed there, so it's essentially deadlocked for the foreseeable future.

In the meantime, until elections hand control of the three branches (don't forget the Supreme Court) over to one party or the other, we should probably expect a series of small bargains on the debt and deficits (as well as social issues, like same-sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana).

So get used to the current gridlock; it's probably going to be here for a while. And maybe that's not such a bad thing. Maybe the "conversation" will just take a long, long time. After all, it's complicated. But, hopefully, we'll some day arrive at consensus on the proper role of government in our society.

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