It'll undoubtedly rankle Time magazine's Joe Klein to be told this, but, as he makes clear in his column this week, he has somehow acquired an insight into the wisdom of President Reagan, who declared in his 1981 inaugural address that "government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem." (Let it be noted that this observation is offered in the spirit of humility, not as ideological one-upmanship).
Klein surveyed the accumulating wreckage wrought in the implementation phase of Obamacare -- including this week's announcement of a one-year delay in creating the exchanges designed specifically for small businesses -- and observed that "the [Obama] administration has had three years to set up these exchanges. It has failed to do so. This is a really bad sign. There will be those who argue that it's not the administration's fault. It's the fault of the 33 states that have refused to set up their own exchanges. Nonsense. Where was the contingency planning?"
With that last question, Klein touched on the fundamental flaw of all Big Government programs -- there can never be enough contingency planning when the contingencies run to infinity. This reality is being demonstrated with increasing frequency as Obamacare proceeds in its takeover of one-sixth of the largest, most complex economy in all of human history. No politician or bureaucratic expert, or group of them, is smart or powerful enough to stay on top of such an immense undertaking.
To his great credit, Klein's stinging critique wasn't limited to Obamacare. He also noted the incomprehensible failure of the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs to come up with a common, computerized health care records system, and the storied duplication and inefficiency of the federal government's myriad job training programs. He even acknowledged that a recent government study of one of the Great Society's marquee initiatives, the $7 billion Head Start program, had concluded it is "nearly worthless." Indeed, there is an "endless list" of such failures, he said.
But just as liberal Democrats should recognize that reflexively turning to Washington is too often a costly, doomed exercise, conservative Republicans would do well to acknowledge that there are initiatives for which government is well-suited -- the Civil Rights Act of 1964, for instance, and the original Clean Air Act. The key for liberals and conservatives is to keep in mind the odds of success rise when key decisions are left in the hands of individuals instead of politicians and bureaucrats.
As Reagan put it so eloquently in that same address: "From time to time we've been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. But if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?"