OP-EDS

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April 13, 2007

Politics can't simply be a game of Monopoly

I realize the adage “money talks” is just basic economics, but this is getting ridiculous. It’s become a knee-jerk reaction to write a big government check for problems that need a lot more than money to be resolved. A sum of money is only useful with a degree of seriousness and commitment to addressing infrastructural and practical issues to back it up. A few examples follow.

Pre-9/11, about 300,000 fugitive aliens were still waiting for the government to follow through on orders for their deportation, and, well, we plumb lost track of them. Following 9/11, energy to relocate and expel these aliens was renewed through a $200-million allocation by the Justice Department for its Absconder Apprehension Initiative. In a recently released update, Homeland Security revealed that the number of fugitive aliens in this country has—erm—increased to somewhere in the ballpark of 623,292, as of August 2006. Of course, all kinds of variables factor into that number: information breakdown between government officials and local police, flaws in the fugitive database, and our effectively open border. But for this problem to double in size $200 million later is unacceptable.

The billions spent in Katrina aid managed most notably to make more of a mess in what was an already devastating disaster situation. It’s not worth rehashing every aspect of what went wrong or where to place blame; the feds faced a lose-lose situation from the start. Bush and his administration have been equally criticized for not responding quickly enough or with enough financial strength, and also for responding too quickly by employing a careless “spend now, ask questions later” strategy that resulted in much of the wastefulness. Socialistic, government-sponsored charity is seldom efficient and leaves evil capitalist organizations like Wal-Mart—a favorite villain in the fables of the left—to be the unsung heroes whose transportation infrastructures and logistical tactics enabled the timely outdoing of local and national government support.

Sometimes, big sums of money should be spent. National defense, specifically our current engagements in the Middle East, is a good example of appropriate spending. Of course, here is where liberals are most tight-fisted, and the delivery of much-needed aid to military operations in the Middle East is being stalled by petty politics. The newly Democratic House of Representatives is imposing a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq by essentially starving our troops in the field. A $124-billion emergency funding bill was passed by the House near the end of March, but with a string attached that mandates our withdrawal from Iraq by the arbitrary date of August 31, 2008. Whether Iraqi forces will be ready to take over by then is irrelevant. President Bush has vowed to veto the bill, but his lack of line-item veto power means he can only veto the bill in full, consequently delaying the delivery of much-needed aid to our men and women in uniform (talk about a rock and a hard place). Our troops are now caught in the middle of the left’s attempt to stick it to Bush, because our troops are the ones who will suffer while our politicians fight over the cookie jar. On its own, the Army can only finance basic operations. Failing to send aid means repair work, recruitment, and re-enlistment will be halted. That may sound great to liberals who want to see the Army as small and broke as possible, but here again this faulty logic leaves our troops to suffer. A freeze on deployments means currently engaged solders cannot be relieved, potentially extending their already arduous tours of duty. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Whether you support the war or not, or believe the surge is working or not, it is clear that withholding aid from our troops is most directly hurtful to the very men and women whose best interests the House claims to have in mind.

So what can conservatives do about all these financial debacles our government keeps getting itself into? Columnist Martin Olasky’s suggestion is—pardon the pun—right on the money: “Those favoring small government need to show that Americans can deal with social problems without enlarging the state.” Let your actions speak louder than the change jingling in your pocket by volunteering your time. Tutor a child, help build a house. We need to pull away from the mindset that big problems can be solved only by big governments with deep pockets, so that our government can be free to do what it was intended to do: provide national security to its citizens. Some may think Olasky’s advice a bit Hallmark, but therein lies the tragedy. When did demonstrating humanity toward our fellow man become less important than spending money on him? It’s the small-scale, day-to-day efforts of a nation’s citizens that must mark the first step toward effective, intelligent policy making.