October 23, 2011 in Opinion

Bottom line up to voters

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Why can’t we have smart, successful business leaders lift up the hood of government, diagnose the problem and fix it?

We’ve certainly had a number of them run for president, or at least think about it. Lee Iacocca, Ross Perot, Donald Trump and Herman Cain come to mind. So, why are we saddled with these career politicians who have never signed the front of a paycheck?

The problem, it seems, lies in the U.S. Constitution. The framers imagined a representative democracy that is accountable to the people, and we don’t all think alike or have the same priorities. So they didn’t give us an objective tool to measure our public servants.

In business, it’s easy to find the bottom line. It’s at the bottom, with all of the directives coming from the top. Government success is in the eye of the beholder.

“I saved the taxpayers millions of dollars!”

“You kicked poor people off Medicaid!”

In short, government is subjective. Business success is objective.

So, when business leaders offer solutions, their reference points are typically in dollar signs or other digits. For instance, investor Warren Buffett made an off-the-cuff suggestion recently about the debt problem that was taken seriously by business-minded folks.

In an interview with CNBC, which, naturally, is a business channel, Buffett said: “I could end the deficit in five minutes. You just pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3 percent of GDP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election.”

Brilliant, right? This idea has all of the trademarks of running government like a business. It’s simple. It has a bottom line. It has accountability.

So what’s the holdup?

Well, the framers didn’t form a business with an objective goal of hewing to a particular number. They didn’t even place limits on debt or mandate that budgets be balanced.

However, we could fix this by amending the Constitution to establish the “Buffett Line,” coupled with severe consequences for those who overdo it.

It’s tempting, but it would be like flunking an entire high school senior class for their aggregate score in one subject. We’d also be punishing the kids who aced their debt and deficit tests. Sure, it would be funny to fire Ron Paul for the nation’s fiscal woes, but would it be fair? Would it make sense?

There is no getting around the fact that members of Congress didn’t just show up. People sent them there. People can bring them home. We call them voters. A Buffett Amendment would assign voters their top priority and then do their homework for them.

While the idea would appear to be rooted in a general distrust of politicians, what it’s really saying is that we don’t trust ourselves.

Moses supposes. Spokane police Officer Tim Moses told the jury in the Otto Zehm case that he couldn’t remember some of the incriminating things he said about fellow officer Karl Thompson, and he blamed mean, manipulative prosecutors for forcing him to utter falsehoods in front of a grand jury. Cops have been known to do some rough questioning of their own, so there’s some interesting irony if indeed the tables were turned.

In any event, a couple of medics at the Zip Trip on that fateful night remember Moses saying what he now says he didn’t say or can’t remember saying. Not to lunge to conclusions, but I’m guessing the jury won’t find Moses’ courtroom tap dance – or that of his fellow “intimidated” officer – to be amusing, even if it reminds them of a number from “Singing in the Rain.”

Moses supposes his toeses are roses,

But Moses supposes erroneously.

Gelato for Vp! Thanks to the owners of Ferrante’s Café for lightening the election mood with their mock campaign signs. If you’ve driven around the South Hill, you’ve probably seen them: “Mushroom Gnocchi for Mayor;” “Peas & Bacon for County Commissioner.”

There’s also this choice: “Margherita Pizza for President.” That’s more appetizing than the Big Cheese at Godfather’s Pizza.

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Sundays on the Opinion page.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email