branches of governmentless attractive to those best qualified to serve in it. Some of the organizational and procedural changes now in force, especially civil service reform, were long overdue. Others are counterproductive. It is a mixed bag and a dangerous substitute for action. This preoccupation with governing the government, the substitution of methods for the ends of government, has produced reorganization plans for the executive branch. We now have an Energy Department, but no adequate energy policy. The government will have sunset laws and more bureaucracy, Humphrey-Hawkins laws and more unemployment. Paradoxically, the response of American politics to Richard Nixon was to institutionalize him. Before the President’s fall, a commentator said, “If a high degree of efficiency and superb follow-through are presidential virtues, then Richard Nixon is the most virtuous man ever to sit in The White House.” Such “virtues” are institutionalized by procedures which attach the least value to the most subjective, perhaps most important, values. How does a zero-based budget value art or basic science, after all? And how would the proposals for indiscriminate ceilings on taxes and expenditures weigh the deflationary effects of investments in health, or food, or energy, or law enforcement; or judge what it is that makes life truly worth living? The rapidity with which events move and the magnitude and complexity of issues overwhelm the institutions of selfgovernment everywhere. In Lincoln’s time the typewriter had yet to be invented. Today knowledge is exploding beyond the capacity of men to utilize even with computers. A concern for management is understandable, but I question whether it has not become a substitute for hard choices and new ideas. Presidential policies and decisions percolate up through inter-agency reviews and presidential review memoranda and through the technocrats in OMB until finally the computers have made their last run and the president is faced with a set of options that reflect the lowest common denominator of the bureaucracy. This process doesn’t produce new directions or ideas. Choices are unguided by any relevant philosophy; “liberal” and “conservative” are labels without meaning. They are unguided by history and the ‘instincts of wise men. The nation is at another watershed, presented with choices not unlike those it faced in the ’20s and the ’40s. It could choose to protect itself from foreign economic competition. That choice in the ’20s was the proximate cause of world depression which, with all the inadequacies of the First World War’s settlement, led to the disarray of the democracies and the next war. Or it could move to meet the competition in the world. It could develop new marketing systems, increase the production of food, adapt antitrust laws to a global market. It could recommit itself to basic science and technological innovation, a basis for economic progress. New frontiers in space could be pushed back with the American space shuttle and that benign environment utilized routinely for the benefit of mankind. It could move as it did in the late ’40s to build world institutions of trade and money and development. It could recognize that it is ultimately more hopeful for mankind to increase the production of essential commodities and services than to decrease the demand for them. There is no limit to what the U.S. could do with ingenuity and entrepreneurshipand an emboldened government. But this time the nation is not reforming. Lyndon Johnson said he would push buttons and give orders, but the bureaucracy was impervious to command. Now the bureaucracy seems to command the presidency. The budget drives the president. Presidents respond to the reforming forces of their time by reorganizingand temporizing. One of the objectives of “reform” was called “citizen participation.” Political parties were opened up through quotas and affirmative action programs. The results of that effort for citizen participation are reflected in public opinion polls and elections which indicate that the citizens have dropped out of the parties. They are eloquently protesting the inadequacies of this reformed process by refusing to be a part of it. “Reform” has enfranchised single interest groups to the felt exclusion of the general public. Campaign finance reforms subordinated the citizen to the political action committee. Candidates appeal to special interests instead of to the general interest more so than before “reform.” The last candidate to talk sense was, like Roosevelt, a candidate of “bosses.” The first candidates of the “reformed” parties were Richard Nixon and George McGovern. In their early days the parties were imbued with a strong Jeffersonian commitment to individual freedom. Now they are heavily influenced by impersonal forces of organized labor, organized business, government itselfand a new egalitarianism. Lincoln would find ways to harmonize affirmative action with the Jeffersonian ideal of excellence. He accepted profit as a motivating force for the nation. Now the effort of reform is to redistribute profitat some risk of not producing it. The presidency may again require a new party to sustain it. Another “starveling of fate,” as Wendell Phillips called Lincoln, must be somewhere in this vast country ready to respond again to the disillusioned with a message of hope rooted in American tradition and faced to the future. That message could sustain the evolution of nations toward world citizenship and emancipate the energies of the individual. Principle and self-interest might be merged once more in a reaffirmation of American purpose. Perhaps people would come, as they did in Lincoln’s time, to the debates. I am not certain the old parties with all their baggage could produce the candidates and ideas any more than they could in the mid-19th century. And if a new order of leadership is not forthcoming from the institutions of American self-government inflation, unemployment and recession will create a militancy in America that could find other outlets. The public is dissatisfied with the existing order of things and rightly so. New parties have appeared at such times, rarely to succeed at the polls, but with lasting effects on the nation’s politics. It could happen again, and perhaps it should. Bernard Rapoport, Chairman of the Board P.O. Box 208, Waco, Texas 76703 American Income Life Insurance . Company THE TEXAS OBSERVER
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