Politics, left and right, pushing and pulling with all their might

October 22, 2021

“Governing a large country is like frying a fish. You spoil it with too much poking.”

– Tao Te Ching, Stephen Mitchell translation

Church bells rang last Saturday morning as I was leaving the weekly farmers market in St. Michaels, Md., due west and all the way across the Delmarva Peninsula from Delaware’s Cape Region.

The Episcopal church’s carillon peals out the Westminster chiming sequence every quarter-hour followed by the appropriate striking of the clock at the top of each hour. Sprinkled in are hymns that roll out across the downtown and in all directions throughout the rest of the village.

Hearing the hymning bells at high noon took my mind to a paragraph in a recent Kiplinger report. The weekly letter for business forecasting touches on a wide variety of topics affecting the economy, from politics to shipping and energy to housing starts. The paragraph that rang a bell in my mind in more ways than one focused on a recent poll from the Gallup firm that has been gauging moods of Americans for decades.

In almost an exact flip from one year ago, the poll found a majority of those polled from across the land feel the federal government is doing too much to try to improve Americans’ lives – 52 percent – compared to 43 percent who feel the government should do more. One year ago, when coronavirus had a tighter grip across society and our economy, a similar question found a record-high 54 percent saying government should do more, compared to 41 percent who said government was doing too much.

The nation’s political winds shift more quickly and predictably than those generated by our planet spinning through the atmosphere. The tolling bells reminded me that during the 20th century, churches played a much stronger role in our societal structure, addressing in one shape or form many of the needs now taken on by government. As I listened to that day’s hymn, I wondered whether there is a relationship between the expansion of government and the steady decline in the number of people taking part in church life, as chronicled in a national story that made headlines in the same week as the most recent Gallup poll.

Churches of caring people continue to provide all kinds of outreach to help those in their own flocks and beyond, but not as much – if the polls are to be believed – as they once did.

Tao Te Ching, a book of ancient Chinese wisdom, falls decidedly on the side of less rather than more when it comes to government. One chapter suggests, “The more you do for people, the less they do for themselves”; another states more directly, “Act for the people’s benefit. Trust them, leave them alone.” 

So the pendulum continues to swing back and forth between too much and too little, as evidenced by watching Congress pushing and pulling, all of us searching for that sweet, Goldilocks, just-right combination.

I’m concerned that the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed with a refreshing bipartisan vote earlier this year may never bring the improvements it includes because the Democrat majority in the House of Representatives is tying its passage to another bill three times as large for a number of other social initiatives. One hopes the art of compromise will eventually win the day. But as time marches on, it feels like neither bill will pass.

President Juan Peron utters a  famous line in the Broadway musical “Evita” – about Argentina’s Eva Peron – as she pushes to fulfill her inspired but ill-fated campaign to improve the lives of the common people.

“Politics is the art of the possible.” 

What a delicate and tricky art it is.

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