Let’s try humility, for a change

SEVERAL years ago, one of the biggest — and saddest —  news stories in the U.S.  was about the Veterans Affairs hospitals. “Nobody wanted this outcome,” author and political commentator Kevin D. Williamson wrote at the time. “That outcome, recall, is a great many dead veterans, the result of medical and managerial malpractice. Democrats did not want the hospitals that care for our veterans to be catastrophically mismanaged while administrators set about systematically destroying the evidence of their incompetence, and Republicans did not want that, either. Independents are firmly opposed to negligently killing veterans. It doesn’t poll well. Everybody is so opposed to that outcome that we created a cabinet-level secretariat to prevent it and installed as its boss Eric Shinseki, a highly regarded former Army general. We spent very large sums of money, billions of dollars, to prevent this outcome, almost trebling VA spending from 2000 to 2013 even as the total number of veterans declined by several million.”

Williamson added, “Nobody wanted these veterans dead, but dead they are. How is it possible that the government of the United States of America — arguably the most powerful organization of any sort in the history of the human race, in possession of a navy, a nuclear arsenal, and a vast police apparatus — cannot ensure that its own employees and contractors do not negligently kill its other employees and former employees? Never mind providing veterans with world-class medical care — the federal government cannot even prevent bureaucratic homicide. All of the political will is behind having a decent VA, and there is nothing to be gained politically from having a horrific one. How can it be that, with everybody free to vote as he pleases and to propose such policies as please him, we end up with what nobody wants?”

These are questions that elected officials, politicians and, yes, voters should ask themselves.

Recorded human history is strewn with so many dismal accounts of similar or even worse disasters involving governments that were trying to do good. (Price controls. Rent control. Minimum wage hikes. Welfare. Prohibition. Protectionism. Economic planning.)

Good if not noble intentions. Officials with impeccable credentials — including impressive educational background and integrity. More than adequate funding. Goals supported by almost everyone. Political will.

And yet…


No such thing as free stuff

ONE of the main reasons many voters still “go to the polls” on Election Day is that they believe or hope that like God in the Book of Genesis, to paraphrase Williamson, the people who seek office, if elected, can speak reality into being: Let there be…free this, free that, affordable this, affordable that, and more of the good stuff and no more of the bad stuff, etc.

It is more than likely that many politicians believe that, too. (Otherwise, they would not have joined the world’s second oldest profession.)

Not surprisingly, then and now, and in many other democracies all over the world, many bills introduced in the legislature or parliament and many policy proposals pushed by elected officials verge on the audacious. The proponents of these measures believe they’re “solving problems,” quite unaware that based, again, on recorded human history, “the chief cause of problems are solutions.”

In the CNMI, many, if not almost all, lawmakers and other elected officials are truly doing their best to do good — to “deliver” the good stuff to the public. But there is only so much that legislation or public policies can do. And before they could be passed or implemented, they require patient deliberation and review, public hearings and debates. Many of them must also have a funding source. But usually, funding an “important item”  could mean that another “important item” would get less or none.

In government, moreover, “important” is relative. We may say that certain government offices, programs, agencies, services are “unimportant” and, therefore, should get less funding — if not downsized or abolished — so the “truly important” government offices, programs, agencies, services would get more funding. Right?

But those whose “unimportant” government jobs are at stake — whose families’ sources of livelihood are at stake — may disagree. And in a representative democracy like the CNMI, so many of those who disagree with us are voters, too.

And they, too, remember in November.


Zaldy Dandan is the recipient of the Best Editorial Writer Award of the Society of Professional Journalists, and the CNMI Humanities Award for Outstanding Contributions to Journalism. His three books are available on amazon.com

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