The No-Governmentalists

From Mary Lou Retton to Michael Phelps, and Flying Squirrels to Flying Tomatoes, the Olympics is unrivaled in its ability to whip us into a united, flag-waving, beret-tolerating mob of sports enthusiasts. Jingoistic currents ripple through the country as everyone from West Virginia coal miners to Wall Street tycoons rally behind an extraordinary corps of accomplished athletes and skilled competitors, while an animated Al Michaels screams something about believing in miracles.

3,500 miles away from the festivities along the River Thames, however, America continued to endure yet another bitter, acrimonious campaign season, punctuated by the incessant drive-by attack ads swamping the airwaves with more darkened images and creepy piano music than a Halloween sequel. August has become the cruelest month, as the closing of those majestic London Games will soon give way to the impending return of the clown-filled three ring circuses known as our national political conventions. How quickly we've forsaken the Red, White and Blue for our coveted red and blue corners.

We often speak with reverence of the extraordinary achievements of the World War II veterans. Rightly so. Yet we forget too easily that the war effort back then wasn't confined to the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific, it consumed the United States as well. Virtually every American contributed, from the legions of women who filled our factories and shipyards from coast to coast, to my 10-year-old father, who collected tin cans in his Cleveland neighborhood. Everything from meat to gasoline to rubber was rationed by Uncle Sam.

Grousing was rare, and most Americans happily sacrificed even more than what their government required. Some 85 million Americans purchased war bonds, providing nearly $200 billion in public monies to defeat the Third Reich and the Japanese Empire. Why? Because Americans at that time viewed this plight as a collective one, summed up in six simple words. We're all in this together.

Ancient history, of course. The wedge that divides America today is a familiar one; simply, to what extent we should have "more" or "less" government in our lives. Even our founders wrestled with this one. The Federalists, the party of Washington and Adams, competed for the hearts and minds of older white males by ardently preaching the virtues of a strong national government. Their stalwart antagonists, known as the anti-Federalists, disdained centralized power and saw little distinction between an oppressive monarch in London and an over-empowered elected government in New York. More than two centuries later, the anti-Federalists are still among us, a loose confederation of Tea Party conservatives, establishment Republicans, and Fox News.

GOP leaders once articulated a reasonable vision for limited government as an alternative to the sweeping federal programs that marked the New Deal and Great Society eras. From Dwight Eisenhower to Bob Dole, there was no categorical rejection of government as a viable instrument to address national-level problems. They were small-governmentalists to be sure, but they have been eclipsed today by the no-governmentalists, channeling Charlton Heston and daring us to pry the 10th Amendment from their cold, dead hands.

Nowhere is this more evident than the debate over health care. Even while walloping HillaryCare in the 1990s, Senate Republicans, backed by the conservative Heritage Foundation, forged an alternative pathway to expanding health coverage through an invention called the individual mandate. Fast forward fifteen years, when the uninsured population and health costs had soared even higher. Reform advocates were finally willing to embrace the GOP approach, but found the goal posts had been moved. The individual mandate became tarred and feathered as socialized medicine, and Republicans bolted from health reform efforts faster than, well, Usain Bolt.

The cynicism has sunk to a new low. John Schnatter, the founder and CEO of Papa John's, recently slammed ObamaCare, warning the American people that the costs of pizza delivery will likely increase as a result of the government's demand that he provide health insurance to his 16,500 workers. Schnatter estimated that health reform will require him to add roughly 11-15 cents to each pizza. Horror.

I find no fault with Mr. Schnatter's intentions or math. It is, however, astounding that he thinks so little of his customers, who by his measure will forgo their pizza consumption in protest of the price increase. Perhaps Mr. Schnatter has been standing too close to his ovens, as it is difficult to fathom anyone protesting an 11-cent price increase to cover the medical care of 16,500 workers. Brother, we can spare a dime.

Indeed, Americans are willing to sacrifice. We are an extraordinarily generous and compassionate people, perhaps never exemplified more than following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. While Democrats and Republicans in Washington squabbled over assigning political blame, Americans of all ideological and economic stripes opened their wallets to the victims and reconstruction efforts in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast. Federal employees, from GOP administration appointees to Democratic congressional staffers, responded to the Department of Homeland Security's call for volunteers, traveling on their own dime to Louisiana and Texas to support relief efforts and do their part. Sixty years after the end of World War II, Americans proved their ability to unite behind a common cause and support their fellow compatriots.

Chrysler sought to showcase this American mettle with an ad that aired during the Super Bowl last February. It was an inspiring, heartwarming message, hailing the return of American car manufacturing and those core American values of doggedness and grit. We'll find a way through tough times, growled a leathery Clint Eastwood, and if we can't find a way then we'll make one. But the fringe cynics among us even found fault with that message, accusing Chrysler of a subliminal campaign to support the president as payback for the auto industry bailouts. Audible sigh.

Finding fault with Washington is easier than throwing a badminton match. Our capital is riddled with dysfunction and plagued by bureaucracy, political gamesmanship, occasional corruption, and now, skinny dippers. The lack of faith in our government institutions is palpable.

But we can't just give up and allow such perceptions to drive us into paralysis. We are faced with too many epic social and economic challenges that local governments and the private sector simply lack the capacity and resources to address. Our government has a decidedly mixed record in meeting such challenges, but our successes far outshine our failures. In past decades, our government has built an interstate highway system, split the atom, eradicated polio, planted our flag on the Moon, and yes, guaranteed health insurance to millions of elderly and impoverished Americans. These are extraordinary accomplishments, historic moments when the promise of America became a reality, symbolic of our boundless potential when we push electoral politics aside and stand together as one nation.

"Nous Sommes Tous Amèricains!" -- We Are All Americans -- famously declared the preeminent newspaper in France following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. How prescient for one of our allies to understand that on transcendent issues, we are indeed all in this together. If only some of our own countrymen could understand the same.