Stewardship

I am having the interesting experience of working on an Information Technology project for the Department of Defense. I’ve learned a lot. One unexpected experience is a deep appreciation for how much of our government is stewardship. In the Department of Defense, there is a significant amount of work to managing all of the documents – both historical and contemporary – that are related to the military. Certainly protecting Americans against global threats is stewardship in its most basic form. During peace time, it is more obviously a stewardship role than the active role as it is now during a time of war.

It occurred to me that perhaps the most important part of governing is stewardship.

There are a lot of government responsibilities, like the Securities & Exchange Commission to ensure that the markets operate on a level playing field. FEMA is there to help ensure that there is a level of preparedness for disasters – both man made and natural. The Food and Drug Administration is there to protect our food supplies and to keep the pharmaceutical companies honest. The National Institute of Health and the Centers for Disease Control model and monitor threats to our health and assist in preparedness. There is a lot of oversight required for entitlement programs like WIC, Medicaid, Head Start, etc. Even if you are politically opposed to some of those programs, they are the law of the land. They deserve appropriate stewardship.

I think the Republican party has completely lost sight of the responsibility of government for stewardship. In his first inaugural address, Ronald Reagan stated, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to the problem; government is the problem.” [1] There might have been considerable truth to that in 1981, but modern conservatives have truncated that quote to assert simply that “government is the problem.” The current crop of conservatives want to “be the decider”, but don’t want to do the hard work of governance and stewardship that accompany the luxury of being part of the decision-making process.

Even after the economic crisis of a year ago, there are many conservatives who are whetted to a 100% free market economy and believe that government regulation of any form is wrong. Perhaps the strongest advocate for reduced government regulation in the marketplace was Alan Greenspan. Greenspan was appointed by Ronald Reagan to be the Chairman of the Federal Reserve in 1987.[2] I had a lot of respect for Alan Greenspan during his tenure, but he even admitted that his world view was wrong when it comes to the regulation of financial markets. [3][4]

Obviously too much government can be a problem, too. It is problematic when the government incarcerates people for what they consume – for example, alcohol in the 1930s or marijuana now. It is fiscally problematic for excessive entitlement programs for the impoverished. It is problematic when the government interjects themselves on a decision between a patient and a doctor. (No, I am not talking about the current health care legislation. I am talking about abortion counseling [5]).

Our first goal as voters is to ensure that those people who we elect are interested in governing – and that includes stewardship. Once that is accomplished, our second goal should be to help our elected officials determine the policies that create a minimal, effective government.

References:

[1] http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/ronaldreagandfirstinaugural.html

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Greenspan

[3] http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/georgepacker/2008/10/end-of-an-era-2.html

[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/24/business/economy/24panel.html?_r=1&hp

[5] http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,96275,00.html

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