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Schubart: The Messy Middle

03/16/12 5:55PM By Bill Schubart
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(Host) Commentator Bill Schubart writes about many aspects of life in Vermont - from potholes to politics.  And as the primary season rolls on, he's troubled by the quality of the debate - so far he sees it as consisting of superficial answers to mostly the wrong questions.

(Schubart) Life is a balancing act. Complex truths are easily overwhelmed by simplistic ideologies and yes-no answers. The currently popular debate that pits free-market capitalism against shared responsibility for our community's wellbeing makes for juicy, gladiatorial media bytes but obscures the known fact that it's always in a capitalist democracy's best financial interest to support strong communities. If you don't believe this, consider the alternative.

As communities degrade and finally collapse, the costs in healthcare, corrections, deferred infrastructure maintenance and remedial education skyrocket. Then the debate shifts to whether or not to spend ever more collective wealth managing the ills of a broken society on top of the costs of preventing further collapse. Preemptive investments have always proven more cost-efficient than the cost of managing disorder. An equitably shared commitment to maintain a rigorous public education system, accessible physical and mental healthcare, a blind criminal justice system and public infrastructure goes a long way towards maintaining social and economic order. Just as prenatal care costs less than postnatal illness, a strong military defense has always been cheaper than waging war.

People under stress in a collapsing society resort to expensive though often profitable anodynes to dull the pain of dysfunction like over-medication, over-consumption and over-stimulation, all of which contribute to further dysfunction.

It's fashionable these days to argue that personal freedom should trump investments in community. But neither individual freedom nor community is paramount and both need our vigilance.

There is reason for our popular distaste for big government and its astronomical costs. But in our ardor for easy solutions, we hoist everything up on the same petard. We're unwilling to parse out truth from myth, separating graft, corruption, greed, and waste from the social and economic benefits that good government can provide. We're arguing about whether government is good or bad when we should be discussing how to make it better.

The discussion we should NOT be having is whether capitalism and individual freedom are more important to our future than a shared commitment to community wellbeing. The discussion we SHOULD be having is how one contributes to the other and how we can enhance the prospects for both. But this takes candidates willing to engage in a debate of depth and substance, instead of promoting partisan ideology.

We face some very complex issues as a nation, such as whether or not it makes sense to prosecute two questionable wars - with a third on the horizon, whether to lower taxes on job creators who have not created any domestic jobs, and whether to keep 2 million plus Americans behind bars instead of in classrooms.

Truth needs to be sought out in personal experience, history, art, science, philosophy, and the wisdom and experience of the elders we sequester in nursing homes.

As a nation, we're addicted to easy answers. Oh, if only life were as simple as a candidate debate!


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