There are two ways of looking at America.
One approach offers hope for a bright future, focuses on common ground shared by most Americans, and is grounded in pragmatism and reality. The other offers a depressing outlook, encourages polarization, and is grounded in ideology and fantasy.
The positive approach is built upon America’s founding ideals of freedom, self-governance, and equality. At its core is a belief that the people are in charge and that the culture leads society. It acknowledges a role for government, but not the lead role. It recognizes that change begins outside the political process when people use their freedom to work together in community.
The negative approach is built upon the self-serving view of America’s political class that every problem must have a political solution. In this worldview, it is the government and elected politicians who determine the fate of the nation. Conservatives and liberals in the political class have different views about which policies are best, but they agree that elites are responsible for making the rules for the rest of us to live by.
President Theodore Roosevelt long ago expressed the underlying view of the political class by complaining that we need to talk less about the rights of individuals and more about their duty to government.
But, no matter how much the political class wishes it were so, this view of politics and government leading the nation has no basis in reality. As I note in my new book, Politics Has Failed: America Will Not, the culture always leads and politicians always lag behind. To take just one recent example, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have had a bigger impact on the nation than the combined legacies of all eight men who have been president since Apple and Microsoft were founded.
Looking ahead, while the ideological wars rage over how to reform health care, the real change will come from new technologies that give patients more control over their own health and health care choices. Pragmatic community problem solving will build upon these new tools and disrupt the health care industry in ways we can’t even begin to imagine. The politicians will then try to catch up.
These contrasting views of America lead to fundamental differences of opinion about the way government should work and the role it should play.
Those who believe in top-down rule by the political elite are frustrated with America’s constitutional system of checks and balances. They want a more energetic government that can quickly implement changes to fix whatever they believe is wrong with American society. Unfortunately, government has been moving in this direction for decades. Proponents of this view have created a Regulatory State by turning more power over to unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats in Washington.
The Regulatory State is the death star of the political class. It is meant to bring order to the nation and is built on the mistaken ideological belief that a one-size fits all approach can work in the iPad era.
Fortunately, as our dysfunctional political system continues to break down, change is coming. No matter how powerful it may seem, the Regulatory State is no match for America’s founding ideals. Things will probably get worse before they get better, but freedom, self-governance, and equality will lead us to a brighter future.