Donkeys and Elephants



“It seems to me Democrats (Liberals) want to help people and Republicans (Conservatives) want to help people help themselves.” That’s how it was summed up by someone who was, I think, pretty wise.

But when I am in a bad mood, it seems to me that liberals are paternalistic and conservatives are heartless. I think I must have the heart of a liberal and the mind of a conservative.


The cynic within me believes that liberals have a symbiotic relationship with those who benefit from their social programs. So, the politicians need the poor for three things; to stay poor, to continue to receive assistance, and to continue to vote for them.

Often federal programs don’t work very well and sometimes they evoke the “law of unintended consequences.” Hence, we have a taxing system that requires the average person to employ a professional or specialized computer program to simply determine what she actually owes. Corporations have an entire pose of lawyers to figure out how to minimalize their tax liability.

A few decades ago, public urban, transportation, and housing policies created huge communities of young adults, paid not to work, and subjected to inferior education and employment systems, living in high rise inner city buildings while the leaders of their community were able to move out to the burbs. How well did that work?

It could be argued that the largest federal programs have worked fairly well, like Medicare and Social Security. Sure there is significant Medicare fraud, but the bigger problem is that these programs are unsustainable and must undergo a major revision.

Social programs are layered with bureaucracy and are measured by output instead of outcome. If they were successful the ranks of those needing some of these programs would be thinning. Instead it becomes about the “numbers served” (like McDonald’s) and dollars spent, rather than about what will truly help individuals and families move forward and accomplish their own goals.

Are government programs generally helping people to improve their lot or are they an inadequate, piecemeal safety net to simply help them survive? What does it say about a society that does one while leaving the other undone?

Liberals think government is the solution to most of society’s ills. If that were true, with all of the government we have, and all of the billions spent, we should be much, much further ahead.


Conservatives love the “free market” and believe if government would just get out of the way, things would work out just fine. Therefore, they embrace a minimalist perspective toward regulation. They recognize the bounds of government and are vigilant in defending our constitution and the intent of our founders to have a small, limited federal government. Conservatives are more realistic that liberals in focusing on sustainability and fiscal responsibility and they champion personal freedom.

They, of course, believe that the private sector drives the economy, while liberals think the government does.  I think if government is so big that it can drive the nation’s entire economy, it is too big.


Am I missing something here or do our extreme alternatives only leave us with a choice about who we want to screw us over? Must it really be a choice between a an ever encroaching, power hungry, over-spending government dictating “what is best for us” or greedy, ultra-wealthy financial institutions and corporations responsible for of our current economic mess taking advantage of us for their extreme gain.

The bigger problem is that both government and corporations are working together. The Affordable Care Act that was supposed to reign in healthcare costs, but providers, drugs companies, and insurance companies will be a huge boom for them. In the name of providing “affordable” care for all, the law of the land provided a windfall for medical corporations and insurance companies.

Liberals believe that government is the solution. Conservatives believe that individuals freedom and a free market are the solution. Both views are partially true, but terribly incomplete and very inadequate.


Common sense would indicate that we need a basic social safety net for the very poor and the disabled, a way of partnering with people to help them improve their lot in life, reasonable consumer and environmental regulations, new jobs and workers trained for them, a revamped Social Security and Medicare, tax reform, and fiscal responsibility. But instead of common sense, we get donkeys and elephants!

About Glenn

Glenn Hager is a blogger, former newspaper columnist, and author of two books, An Irreligious Faith and Free Range Faith.
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