Government fails to earn public trust

8 mins read

“Congressional approval hits all-time low.” “Seventy percent of Americans view the country as on the wrong track.” “Trust in government at historic lows.”

Headlines like these lead newspapers, appear on the 24 hour sensationalist cable news channels and dominate the political discourse. Something is amiss in America, and has been for decades.

Out of all these problems, there is one that stands out from the rest as a threat to our constitutional republic. And that threat is the lack of trust in government.

Governmental legitimacy is an essential aspect of our constitutional republic. If the government is viewed as unable to function, our entire system is threatened. If citizens lose interest in public affairs, or if even the most interested citizens view public affairs as unworthy their attention, the government will miss hearing the very voices that our representatives should be representing.

Conservatives are often derided as hating government for all it does, but this is a profound misunderstanding of conservatism. Conservatives just want to preserve our governmental system the way it was intended by the Founders. In order to do so, we must define the role of government in our society. Many of the problems which plague America today come from ambiguity on this simple question: what is government’s proper role in our society?

We have all too often forgotten to ask this question. Take the Affordable Care Act, which barely passed Congress in 2010. There are now millions of Americans having their healthcare coverage cancelled (or forced into new plans) and the Healthcare.gov website is plagued with problems. The very legitimacy of our government is at stake. People who are relying on getting insurance through the exchanges need to know they will have insurance on January 1. This is not some abstract conversation: the website failures at this early stage could be a real problem for individuals who need insurance, or are having their policies cancelled.

We forgot that government should never have been involved in the insurance market to begin with. Relying on a centralized federal government to provide private market health insurance plans was a terrible idea, a fact conservatives, Republicans, and some Democrats realized back in 2009 and early 2010 when the Affordable Care Act first passed congress.

Ironically, Obamacare served as the main contention point in the recent federal government shutdown. If a delay of the individual mandate had been agreed to, the shutdown would never have happened. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), however, refused to allow any bill altering Obamacare to come to the floor in the Senate. Now, multiple Democratic senators up for reelection in 2014 have signed a letter arguing for the individual mandate to be delayed.

Conservatives don’t hate government in the abstract. We believe there is a particular role for government in our country, and taking over the healthcare system is not part of that role. As seen by the past month, federal intervention in the healthcare system made the system less efficient and more cumbersome. Over the last few years, we have seen major corporations get exemptions from the healthcare law. We have seen the employer mandate to provide coverage if the corporation has over fifty employees get delayed by one year, while the individual mandate will still go into effect in 2014. The Affordable Care Act is not affordable, and definitely not fair.

The President’s insistence that Americans would be able to keep their current plans if they chose was likely a poll-tested description in order to sell the healthcare law to skeptics. Regulations issued by the Department of Health and Human Services have made such a promise impossible to keep. All plans must now have coverage in ten specific areas. One such area is “maternity care,” even in policies for males. Instituting certain requirements for plans meant that some existing plans would need to be changed. Many Americans would have to change their plans, sometimes at a significantly greater cost than their previous plans.

President Obama’s “apology” on NBC News for millions of Americans losing their current healthcare plans became a must for an administration dragged down by a campaign promise that would not be kept. Obama still failed to address those Americans whose health care costs will increase by hundreds of dollars or more every month. Being forced out of current plans is one thing, but having to pay more money per month for services you will not use is a whole other problem.

This was all preventable, if only we stopped and asked ourselves if government should (never mind could) get so involved in the health insurance market. We now see the impact the lack of understanding of the government’s proper role has had on the government’s very functioning and legitimacy. Instead of seeing a limited government functioning properly, we are seeing an expansive government trudging clumsily along.

The healthcare reform debacle is comparable to another scandal that will have repercussions for the United States for decades to come: the NSA spying scandal. On an international scale, knowledge that the United States is spying on the United Nations, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and OPEC is damaging to America’s already suffering reputation. The domestic spying scandal creates yet another crisis of legitimacy for the American government. Many Americans find the idea that the government has all this data at the tip of a rogue NSA employee’s fingertips to be quite unsettling.

I am rather undecided on the issue, but I recognize the profound implications such a program being leaked has on society’s view of the government. And, it’s really a mystery how the NSA can collect every email, text and phone call made in America, yet the Department of Health and Human Services cannot maintain a functioning website that is essential for the Affordable Care Act’s implementation.

Our government faces a crisis; a crisis of trust. While it is easy blame corporations, special interest groups and lobbying for Americans’ lack of trust in the government, could it actually be that the government has overpromised on its abilities?

The Phoenix