If the test is not how big or small government is but whether it works, what fate awaits the old boat? Must the ordinary citizen look to science for a marine finish superior to that of plain varnish? …
Franklin D. Roosevelt was well known for a series of “fireside chats” over the radio airwaves. He explained his programs to ordinary Americans in plain, simple terms, telling the people to have “confidence” and “courage.” F.D.R. warned ordinary citizens that unless they rejected fear, they would never be able to pull out of their malaise. Instead, he urged them to embrace its opposite: hope. His confidence in his own determination to defeat the disease of polio, and rise out of his wheelchair with the aid of heavy metal braces, inspired the ordinary citizen. Ultimately, F.D.R.’s New Deal offered a consistent message of encouragement which began to take hold on the American psyche.
In foreign policy, F.D.R. guided
the uncharted waters of World War II, the Second European Civil War, and the
atrocities of Hitler ‘s Nazi Germany. He
implored ordinary Americans to cherish and hold onto the four freedoms: freedom
of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from fear, and freedom from want. Shortly before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, F.D.R. announced the controversial “lend
lease” policy, promising to help the British and Russians through the lease of
American military equipment.
What was lend lease? F.D.R. assessed the situation using a metaphor that ordinary Americans could easily understand:
Suppose my neighbor’s home catches fire, and I have a length of garden hose four or five hundred feet away. If he can take my garden hose and connect it up with his hydrant, I may help him put out his fire.
In the same way, the US Constitution can be seen as a classic, old, wooden boat. The wood is fresh, hard, pristine --- and beautiful. It is built to last but would need protection from the corrosive elements.
The US Constitution did not endorse nor contemplate a particular economic system. President Washington chose capitalism as recommended by Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury. This was over the objection of Jefferson, Secretary of State. Government’s initial foray into economic matters gave the boat a handsome finish stain which transformed the wood’s appearance.
Materially, the nation prospered, as the boat skimmed across the smooth surface. But the horizon foreboded turbulence and rocky shoals. As the boat rocked, a Civil War which was almost the nation’s undoing was matched by a Great Depression. In the wake of the old order which had failed, F.D.R.’s new order of reasonable regulation restored the ordinary citizen’s faith in capitalism and made it seem more humane. This provided the boat’s necessary protective varnish.
Over time, the protective varnish would become one with the wood, such that what was once new and strong became old and brittle. Following the Great Recession of 2008, some do not see the point in applying another coat of varnish over the old, that there is already too much reasonable regulation. They merely advocate stripping the varnish and then leaving the old boat to fend for itself. Yet in such instances others trace history’s destructive path of individual excess in proclaiming a warning of dire consequences.
Common sense does seem to suggest that merely putting another coat of varnish over a failed coat --- that layering new reasonable regulation over existing regulation whose properties have been compromised --- serves no useful purpose but to buy time. When the new coat also fails, a day of reckoning with even greater upheaval surely awaits. Common sense does also seem to suggest that, eventually, the layers will have to be stripped and the surface re-finished.
If the test is not how big or small government is but whether it works, what fate awaits the old boat? Perhaps the varnish which is needed has yet to be discovered, that sophisticated scientific hurdles remain in search of a superior marine finish, that buying time is a reasonable approach. Wouldn't it be ironic if a prototype for what’s needed --- the performance of duty which is faith in action --- has been with us all along for more that 2,000 years?