Phil Araoz: Don't give incompetent government more power

In day-to-day life, we usually don't reward dishonesty or incompetence. Or at least we don't like to think we do. But as the government comes to dominate more and more of our day-to-day life, we might have to think again.

Trust in government is at an all-time low. No surprise there — our president recently was named as having delivered the "Lie of the Year" for promising "If you like your health-care plan, you can keep it," when he knew that wasn't so.

Our own congressman, Rep. Tim Walz, was right there with him. As Obamacare was working its way through the House, Walz told us that one of his guiding principles for health-care reform was that "If you like the coverage you have, you should be able to keep it." That's a quote from the July 25, 2009, edition of the Mankato Free Press.

But anyone who attended Walz's health-care town halls at the time could tell you that Walz himself didn't believe that. When citizens noted that Obamacare's regulations would eliminate their plans, Walz (after some hemming and hawing) eventually would tell them it was all for their own good. He said in a town hall meeting on Aug. 20, 2009, that "Insurance has to be regulated — you want your insurance to cover mammograms."

This dishonesty wasn't just limited to the days leading up to Obamacare. Pat Kessler, reporter for WCCO in Minneapolis, said that this fall MNsure officials "lied to us" to cover up ongoing problems with their website, and he called MNSure "one of the most closed, obtuse, misdirecting, camouflaging agencies I've ever dealt with."


What would this dishonesty would cost someone in the private sector? At a minimum, a loss of customers. At a maximum, prosecution. But when it comes to government, people tend to reward dishonesty.

In a paper entitled "Regulation and Distrust" Harvard researchers found that as governments become more corrupt, people become less secure and turn to the government to increase regulation in hopes of increasing their security.

So now, as our government is showing itself to be dishonest and incompetent, politicians and pundits tell us the solution is to give the government more power. It's no surprise that President Barack Obama says this. To him, all his problems stem from our Constitution, which "constrains" him. His solution has been to just suspend laws he doesn't like.

But even pundits such as New York Times columnist David Brooks has said the solution to our problems is to turn over even more power to the president because "We need more unified authority." Another New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman (who appears in the Post-Bulletin) has taken it further, saying our country would benefit if only we could become totalitarian "China for a day."

Free speech. Freedom to assemble. That's been our problem all along.

This yearning for enlightened totalitarianism isn't new. For one, it's deeply ingrained in the progressive tradition in the U.S. The country's first progressive president, Woodrow Wilson, saw the government as a "living thing," and thought the Constitution's separation of powers was as harmful to this life form "as organs offset against each other."

Wilson saw the "bulk of mankind" as "rigidly unphilosophica,l" who eventually would be led by "considerate, paternal government."

Before that, the notion of totalitarian utopia dates to philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes in the 1600s. His book "Leviathan" imagines an ideal society where an all-powerful sovereign makes laws, judges all cases and proscribes what books may or may not be read. Before that, we have Plato's "Republic," circa 300 B.C., where the ideal society is governed by an all-wise philosopher king with authority to pair his subjects for optimal breeding and then raise their children.


In terms of human history, restrained government and individual liberty is a relatively new invention. And a fragile one.

Four years after the passage of Obamacare, here's my suggestion: Let's not reward incompetent dishonest government with more power. Let's be skeptical when politicians promise magical health care reform that will cover more people, cost less, and won't change anybody's coverage.

Let's not wait for an all-powerful superman to solve all our problems for us. Let's take care of ourselves.

Phil Araoz is a physician from Rochester.

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