Commentary: Gridlock on the Beltway

Q: I own a small motor carrier, and we’re doing very well, thanks. But we’re doing well because we quit listening a long time ago to all this political hot air that’s going around lately.

What moves me to write is the complete nonsense I’m hearing in the presidential election ads and speeches and all. Both political parties say they want to fix the economy, but they want to go about it in such weird ways that I wonder whether we’re all on the same planet.

The Democrats want to raise taxes and pay it out to the unemployed and the poor. Seems to me that we don’t need to give people incentives to stay unemployed and poor. Spending money is OK, but spend it where it’ll do some good: building things such as roads and bridges, fixing the ones we have, teaching our kids, public service stuff, that kind of thing. Make jobs, not an endless dole.

Now the Republicans, they want to throw me money (by tax cuts and such) so I’ll make the jobs. The idea seems to be to give me the bucks to expand my business. Well, I’ll expand my business when my market tells me to, not when Washington does, and right now, my market is telling me to sit tight. I’ve seen too many other carriers go out of business because they got overextended. But, hey, thanks for the money anyway. My family appreciates it.

Don’t any of these people have a clue? I mean, one of these guys running for president says he used to run a business. I’ll bet he didn’t run it nearly as dumb as he’s asking me to do. The other one, I guess he’s got a good heart, but you don’t get people to quit holding out tin cups by filling the cups.

And, over the past few years, it seems like the two parties are so busy dumping on each other’s ideas that nothing gets done. I suppose, in one way, that’s not bad, because all government can really do is get in the way. But doing nothing can get in the way, too. Is there a worse way to run a country?

OK, I’m off my soapbox now. Thanks for reading, if you did.

A: Amen, brother.

I not only read your letter, but I considered it worthy of publication, because what you’re saying reflects my own views. When I hear Mitt Romney saying that more police, firefighters, teachers, road construction projects, etc., are just additional hallmarks of the “big government” he wants to curtail, I feel like barfing. When President Obama talks about the private sector “doing just fine,” well, same response.

And when we watch our so-called elected leaders climb up on their own soapboxes to inveigh against one another, eschewing what’s become the “C-word” — compromise — and therefore getting nothing accomplished beyond tooting their own horns, don’t we all feel the same?

There are relatively few things government can do to combat economic downturns. Franklin Roosevelt did most of them trying to help the country out of the Great Depression in the 1930s — massive public works programs, relaxation of fiscal policy, bailing out the banks, etc. — and it still took a world war to bring us back to prosperity.

I certainly hope we don’t come out of this recession the same way. But, meantime, the political gridlock isn’t even allowing us to follow Roosevelt’s stopgap approach. Washington is frozen, and so is the country.

The Republicans are right, so far as they go, that the real solution lies in the private sector. But unlike government (well, government as it’s supposed to be), the private sector doesn’t have the nation’s welfare uppermost in mind. It’s market-driven, as you correctly point out, and a good businessperson isn’t going to blindly expand in a weak market no matter how many tax incentives he or she is offered.

The full answer is that awful C-word, and patience. Both parties have some things right, and if we blend them with giving the marketplace time to come around, we might actually get somewhere. But I don’t much see that on the horizon, do you?

You ask, is there a worse way to run a country. I turn to Winston Churchill: “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others that have been tried.” We can look around the world today for examples of some of the latter, and I wouldn’t trade ours for any of them. It’s a mess, but it’s our mess.

Consultant, author and educator Colin Barrett is president of Barrett Transportation Consultants. Send your questions to him at 5201 Whippoorwill Lane, Johns Island, S.C. 29455; phone, 843-559-1277; e-mail, Contact him to order the most recent 351-page compiled edition of past Q&A columns, published in 2010.

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