The 'Ditch Theory' of government revisited
By Ken Root
Last year, I hit upon a ludicrous explanation for how government operates at the federal level to the point that it seemed plausible. I called it the “Ditch Theory,” and I regret that it is passing the test of time. The concept is that the United States is a very large truck heading down a road with a ditch on either side. The “Truck of Government” is being steered by 535 members of Congress plus the administration. Instead of working together to keep the truck on the road, they have their own political philosophy, so they pull the steering wheel hard, right or left, so that they can accomplish their goals.
The American people, riding in the back, are not able to steer, but (we) are able to choose the people who drive the truck. We, the people, fear that either political philosophy, given enough of a majority, will crash the country into the ditch, so we send the opposite point of view to Congress. The result is a mass of screaming, fighting politicians, each one sure that the opposing party is going to wreck the country and pulling strongly the opposite direction. The very uneasy people are hoping that there is just enough balance that the truck stays on the road and the country survives.
The downside of this is that the politicians are so focused on each other that they forget about the people in the back or what obstacles lay ahead. If there is a fiscal cliff that requires government to plan a coordinated turn to avoid it, there is great likelihood that the “Truck of State” will plunge off. This may even please some of the drivers, as they would rather crash than compromise.
We are not blameless as we sent these people to do our work. All we can do is look through the back glass and witness a political steering battle and see that no one is stepping on the gas or putting on the brake. Before our eyes, the truck is running away varying rates of speed dictated by outside forces.
One more complication is that if we slow too much we will stall and if we go to fast we will be more likely to crash. Slowing down caused a recession in 2008 and fast will bring on inflation, so both are dangerous to everyone in the back of the truck.
If you get this scenario in your head, it can produce nightmares of speeding wildly down a narrow road that has sheer drop-offs on both sides. But worse, when you wake up, you (we) are still helplessly in the careening vehicle.
I am writing this as Congress tries to handle two pieces of legislation that desperately need resolution: the farm bill and immigration. Until our government determines a political solution, nothing but unresolved “gotcha” fighting will happen.
Keep in mind that we are also in sequester, an automatic spending cut that was never supposed to be allowed to shift us into this gear. In the months between now and October, many federal employees will be furloughed, without pay, so figure out what that will do to the economy. Finally, there is another cliff and curve ahead: Congress and the president must confront the debt ceiling this fall—call that a curve—and there is the unresolved budget for the next fiscal year—call that the cliff.
This Congress, according to the New York Times, appears to be incapable of action: “At this time in 2011, Congress had passed 23 laws on the way toward the lowest total since those numbers began being tracked in 1948. This year, 15 have been passed so far.”
My answer is to govern (drive) from the middle, not the edges. We have let political activists tell us that the other side is so bad that we have sent people to Washington, D.C., to “drive” who could not get a driver’s license in the private sector. Both sides have increased the number of extremist politicians to the point that they are overpowering those who would steer straight and keep us on the road.
The obvious conclusion from this tortured analogy is that we are on our way to a huge crash caused by inability to put the interests of the country first. Those pulling to the right are sure they are right and those pulling to the left are sure their path is the only way. Unfortunately, both are wrong and the people in the back will suffer the impact far more than those human airbags who are driving.
Editor’s note: Ken Root has been an agricultural reporter for 37 years. Root now does daily radio and television programming and is a columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.