Every episode of the A&E television show Intervention follows a predictable story arc: a first act introduction to the main character (the addict) with family and friends recalling childhood memories both good and bad (some presented as possibly causal), interspersed with scenes of the addict as they are today; a second act consisting of more current examples of the addict’s fall to (hopefully) rock bottom, with the family and friends planning, with the help of the interventionist, one final push to get the addict to save themselves; and a third and final act revolving around the actual intervention, with family and friends presenting the addict with the offered chance at treatment, but also making clear that whether they go or not, times they are a-changin’. Typically episodes end with the addict accepting the treatment, although usually after a short interlude of dramatically fighting it. If our electoral politics is an episode of Intervention, America is unfortunately still somewhere in the second act. That’s right, America: we’re an addict.
Our drug of choice is government, of course, and we’ve been junkies for a long time. Election 2016 is nothing if not proof positive that the majority of people in this country aren’t yet prepared to enter a treatment facility, and that the threats from friends and family that we aren’t going to “love you to death” by continued enabling and codependency still fall on deaf ears. Rock bottom still seems like a long, long way down.
For an example of our addiction to government largesse as a nation one need look no further than the issue of maternity leave. Donald Trump, ostensibly the Republican candidate for president, recently announced a plan to extend Federal unemployment benefits to include coverage of 6 weeks of maternity leave for any person whose leave is not covered by an employer. The plan is estimated to cost $2.5 billion. Hillary Clinton’s plan is for 12 weeks paid leave, with a higher weekly pay rate, at around 10 times the cost of the Trump plan.
One might well ask how the candidates propose to pay for these plans. The ideas on offer are the predictable from Mrs. Clinton (higher taxes on the “wealthy”) and the fanciful from Mr. Trump (eliminating waste and fraud in the unemployment insurance program). But addicts, even addicts facing $19T in debt, never particularly care where the money comes from as long as they get that fix. Addicts aren’t interested in hearing that either plan, if enacted, would undoubtedly skyrocket past budget projections the same way almost all such government plans do. Besides, as fixes go maternity leave is the good stuff: it panders to over half the voters and when it turns out to be budgetarily unworkable politicians can just blame businesses and insurance companies for not covering enough maternity leave.
Some reading this might be wondering what sort of cold-hearted bastard has a problem with maternity leave. This is another sign of an addict: reflexive justification of their addiction by transference of blame onto someone or something else. Maternity leave is a good and necessary thing. In a perfect world all private companies, big and small, would offer whatever amount of paid leave the women in their employ felt they needed before returning to work. If Mr. Trump wishes to offer paid leave to his female employees, more power to him. If some enterprising insurance company wants to offer highly affordable short term disability insurance to small businesses to cover a set number of weeks specifically for maternity leave, that’s great (although they might want to call it something other than disability insurance). But private solutions are solutions our dealer isn’t particularly interested in making it easier to access. Dealers aren’t known for willingly helping paying customers kick the habit.
Unfortunately, thirty or sixty days in rehab isn’t going to be enough to solve America’s addiction to government. We’ll need to kick the more benign stuff before we can even begin to be weaned slowly off the hard stuff (Social Security, Medicaid, farm bill subsidies, etc). The Republican nominee for president trotting out a plan offering essentially what Democrats have always wanted, even if a lighter version, shows just how addicted we have become to the relatively benign stuff. Nowhere on offer is there a real, actual plan to reduce citizen’s dependence on government programs, for the depressing reason that kicking the habit just isn’t very popular.
The professionals on Intervention often say that addiction is a family disease. This is certainly true of America’s national addiction to government. The vast majority of us are enablers in one way or another. Once the horror of the current election ends those of us who recognize she has a problem will need to sit America down and explain to her that we are no longer going to love her to death, and that she needs to get some help. If she refuses, as addicts sometimes do, we may need to accept that she’s going to have to find her own rock bottom the hard way. But we’ll also have to accept that not every addict makes it back up from the bottom.
Just a gaggle of people from all over who have similar interests and loud opinions mixed with a dose of humor. We met on Twitter.