First Things First … Then The Rest

“Effective leadership is putting first things first” – Stephen Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

I caught an article earlier today about how president Obama intends to put his focus on the flagging US economy. (The link to the article came from the drudgereport – which also noted that he said similar things over the past two years, with little avail.) The article indicates that Obama told reporters “the nation is past the crisis point in the economy, and that he’ll now be working to bring down the jobless rate and equip the nation to compete with the rest of the world.”

There is a lot of talk these days about what the government ought to be doing about this problem or that, what the government ought to be doing to solve our ills as a people (including our high unemployment rate). But I say this misses the point, not just in accordance with my minimalist view of what government rightfully ought to do, but also in putting the cart before the horse – solving secondary and tertiary issues while failing to address the principle matters.

When I was younger I played basketball. I wasn’t the world’s best player, but I was good enough to start on my high school team. (We were pretty darn good too, going 23-3 my senior year … though I candidly admit that much of this was due to the talent of the other four players in the starting rotation.) I remember working on “fundamentals” – cutting off the baseline, proper spacing, see the ball and your man, even where to focus your eyes when defending a dribbler (hint: don’t look at the ball, it’ll only confuse you – he’s going wherever his belly button takes him, that’s the center of mass).

We did all of these things before any cool offensive drills, before shooting or running the fast break, before the fun. Why? Was the coach a boring stodge who wanted us to have no fun on his court? Nope. He quite frankly loved it when the game was fun. But, he knew that if you couldn’t do those things right, if you couldn’t do the fundamentals, the rest really didn’t matter. Executing the fast break was of little concern if you couldn’t consistently offer a defensive effort against the other team. If you can’t do the simple things, the basic things, there’s just no point to the rest – you’re going to lose anyway.

Our government is much the same. What is the primary issue for government, the issue of the most import? Is it employment rate or moral perspective of the citizenry? Is it managing healthy diets for the next generation or making sure banks lend fairly? Is it greenhouse gas emissions or tax cuts for the wealthy? No. The primary issue to be addressed by the government had better be collective, organized defense of individual liberties, among them life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. (Yes, I always add “property” to the list as it derives from life and liberty. Many of the founding fathers did the same, though it didn’t make the final draft; possibly because they were concerned with the implications for slavery.)

If the government can’t do this, then what hope is there for a useful and effective government? If the government cannot defend liberties, then what else could they possibly hope to accomplish? What is the point of “saving the country” if you lose the thing that made us great in the first place? (Let us go back and ask the Germans: “what is the point of rescuing sacred Germany and restoring honor and dignity if it means you sacrifice the freedom of the country to a genocidal maniac?”)

If we’re willing to “punt” on the notion of a free society, where people live with self-determination and the consequences thereof, then the race is on to conform the future fascist state to a reality of our liking. The left will build fascism in which the oppressive rich are brought low (except for the liberal oppressive rich – they will survive just fine as they have seen the light). The right seems bent of fascism that will expand US global dominance and maintain moral order (usually defined as the absence of homosexual misconduct).

This is not a race in which I care to participate. What is the point of “saving the country” from the brink if all it is to become is a militarist theocracy? What is the point of “saving the country” from the brink if all it is to become is a socailist utopian theocracy (of a different god).

There are any number of signs pointing to a difficult road ahead for the USA. State and local governments are about to hemorrhage due to over-promised benefits and over-spent services. Unemployment is likely in the 10% range for some time and the Federal Reserve seems bent on printing our way out of the mess (though they somehow argue that this is not monetizing the debt … right). Those who have been promised various lavish benefits by the government may soon find the well running dry. These all point to anger, upheaval, and a rage against “the people who brought us here.”

(Sidebar, the people who brought us here are us – we keep voting these bums into office.)

Before the waters get stirred up again, before grandstanding politicians make more speeches about the morally right thing to do, before we start pointing fingers all over the place and demanding government do something – let us consider just what we’re trying to save. If we’re just trying to save a convenient existence for ourselves for the next little bit so we don’t have to deal with immediate pain, then perhaps we should reconsider.

If, however, we are trying to save a country that has been a beacon of human freedom and a lamp for the oppressed world, then let our solutions have the courage of our convictions. Let our solutions point away from government control and back to freedom. Let our solutions remove the shackles of over-regulation, and give people freedom to make their own way.

Americans are made of sturdy stuff. I believe we will respond to such a challenge with gravitas and determination. We are not afraid of doing something hard. I suppose we’re far more afraid of not being given the freedom, the choice, the responsibility to fight through the tough times for a better tomorrow. But, I suspect that responsibility will be returning to us shortly.

Until then, put first things first. Do the important stuff, without it the rest is not all that necessary or useful.

On a separate note, I hope everybody has a great Christmas weekend, with safe travel for those who are traveling (and no naked body scans), and plenty of hot chocolate for those shoveling snow. May your shopping be fast and pleasant. And remember, for all of my carping about the way things ought to be, we still live in the freest, most prosperous place on this world – something to be thankful for this Christmas.


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