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"A House Divided …"

July 14, 2011
Marshall Independent

To the editor:

In June 1858, Abraham Lincoln offered an acceptance speech to Illinois Republicans after they had nominated him to run for the U.S. Senate against Stephen Douglas. In that speech, he examined the state of the nation at that time with respect to the institution of slavery. He borrowed a New Testament Bible quotation from Jesus: "A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand."

Lincoln was referring to the stark differences existing in the North and South over the momentous issue of human slavery. Today, students of history often credit Lincoln for stating a pure truth that no real compromise existed when the policy of slavery was at center stage.

In 1858, we were a house divided. Lincoln argued that no middle-ground existed. Either slavery would become legal across the whole land, or it would eventually disappear from the whole country. No intermediate position could exist permanently into the future.

Because of his candid assessment, Lincoln's popularity in Illinois suffered, and history demonstrates that his 1858 speech contributed to his senatorial loss to Douglas.

Lincoln's tendency to tell the truth, as he understood it, may have lost him an election, but it ultimately helped a nation to confront the most difficult issue of that era.

In 2011, we are not facing the moral issue of slavery, thanks to the heroic sacrifices of our ancestors in the 19th Century. But we have our own issues in 2011, and I have come to the opinion that we unfortunately have also reached a stage where NO type of compromise is seemingly possible or permitted. I believe that we have become a house divided.

We are at a crossroads with respect to the role of government in our society. On the one hand, there are many who fervently believe that government has become too large in the U.S. compared to the original intent of the U.S. Constitution, and it is now time to make radical changes to scale it back. On the other hand, there are many who fervently believe that the government's role in society can vary, and that role depends on how we interpret the ability of government to meet its Constitutional responsibilities in modern times.

When it comes to the role of government in our economy, there are only three possible options. One is to decrease the percent of government, the second is to maintain its current size, and the third is to let it increase. In 2011, for many voters in our nation, maintaining government at its current size is just as intolerable as the option of increasing its reach. So, really, our policy choices are bipolar and directly opposed to each other: 1) Government should shrink, and 2) All other options contrary to the first proposition. Viewed in this way, compromise is impossible.

Are you familiar with the term, the Public Sector? The Public Sector, in the United States, is the term that collectively refers to the economic impact of government at local, state and federal levels, combined. In 2011, what is the economic evidence of how the Public Sector is impacting our economy? Is it expanding, staying constant or declining?

Please allow me to focus on an area that has some relevance in our everyday lives. How are public sector jobs changing compared to private sector jobs? I suspect that letters that will follow mine will focus on other measures, such as the impact of government regulations on our lives. I will have to address this item in another forum.

But I happen to think that employment has a special meaning in this society. People enjoy a certain degree of dignity when they have a job and earn an income. Private or public sector.

Just today, July 9, 2011, a nonpartisan and non-governmental entity known as the Economic Policy Institute published this amazing statistic:

"The public sector is now shedding around 25,000 jobs per month, largely due to budget cuts at the state and local level. Since the official end of the recession, the public sector has lost 430,000 net jobs, while the private sector has added 980,000 net jobs. In other words, more than 40% of the private-sector job gains in this recovery have been canceled out by job losses in the public sector."

I have an idea that the above fact about public sector job losses will warm the hearts of some, and they will say that this trend has not nearly gone far enough, and that it must continue until "things are back into balance."

Do we know where that balance point is? I suppose some will say that they will know it when they see it.

Some would have us think that this process will be relatively painless. That the loss of public sector jobs will hardly be felt, because "those people" don't produce much anyway.

"We" are OK. "Those people" are the problem.

Really? If you truly feel this way, then we are a house divided.

While I can agree that the "downsizing" of the public sector is following a pattern already well established in the private sector, there is still a real cost that we all face. Believe it or not, all public sector jobs are not worthless. Who are these public sector employees, and what do they do? Well, they are schoolteachers, state troopers, court judges and park rangers, to name a few. I personally think that the person who manages a highway rest-stop creates value. Can we create a society where these public sector jobs no longer exist? I suppose we could. In such a society, only those with sufficient income will be able to hire their own tutors, buy their own private parks and have their own exclusive staff of private police to serve justice and protect their property. The rest of us will be part of a society that cannot afford such "luxuries."

I guess that I will be criticized for advocating class warfare. But is there really a middle ground in 2011, or are we a house divided? I think we are.

And can we stand divided? Perhaps we can, if Jesus and Lincoln were faulty in their predictions. However, my bet is that Jesus and Mr. Lincoln are knowledgeable on the subject, and I personally will not bet against them.

What is my hope? I want our elected public officials to prove that I am wrong; that our house remains united and is strong still. It may seem strange, but I am praying daily that God will show me that I have erred in my assessment. Because my faith in human capacity is failing. I now think that only Divine intervention can bring about a positive outcome.

I am looking for the miracle that a compromise can be found in the Minnesota budget battle, and in the national one as well, rather than experience the fall of a house divided.

Gerry Toland




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