Is leadership important? Of course it is, but current contests for House leadership positions won’t make much difference for our nation.
The narrow margin between Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives will wreck havoc for whoever ends up in charge. However, the frustration and gridlock may not be all that bad for those of us who want to slow the growth of the federal government.
The most-often-made claim of leadership candidates is that, if elected, they can best balance the demands of the competing special interest groups.
One candidate, in seeking my vote for a leadership position, explained that he was more "telegenic" and could therefore better portray "the party" to the American public on TV. Another said he should be elected because he could, in a legislative sense "make the train run on time."
But are "on-time trains" such a good thing if they carry off more of our money and freedoms while delivering more regulations? It may be that our leaders should demand that we stop the trains entirely. In the last four years, very little legislation has actually been championed to shrink the size and scope of the federal government. A change of leadership probably will not significantly change this record.
Too often the leadership debate is only over which version of government intervention we want. Those seeking high office often pay lip service to "less government," but their voting records rarely show a consistent opposition to big government. So the debates are more over form than substance -- TV performance, getting the growing budget passed on time, satisfying the multitude of demands from the countless groups that have come to believe they are entitled to taxpayer largesse.
The clashes are over big-government details: the welfare poor versus the welfare rich; a foreign policy of propping up right-wing dictators versus left-wing dictators; a war on poverty or a war on drugs; "protecting" the environment or bailing out the IMF. But in the Halls of Congress, little said and less is done about getting the government out of our lives, out of our wallets and off our land.
In 1994 the American people expressed a desire for leaders who push for less government. The lackadaisical effort, poor results and perceived sell-outs of the last four years have disillusioned those voters. So in 1998, voters were demoralized to the point of simply boycotting the polls, adding to the post-WWII trend of an understandable apathy.
Both parties, unfortunately, endorse the use of government force to police the world, to redistribute wealth domestically and internationally, and to manipulate money and credit. Both allow government to invade our privacy as a trade-off for the government financing of education, medical care, and housing, arguing such invasion is necessary to run the system efficiently, and prevent waste and fraud. In the name of "public safety," neither party resists the federal government’s takeover of local law enforcement.
The leadership debate generated by Speaker Gingrich’s departure has been an exciting event for the inside-the-beltway crowd, but did not generate the true debate over philosophical leadership that will determine the course of our nation for years to come.
The contest is not about choosing between big or small government, but merely endorsing the one version of Republican big government over another that can "best compete" with a Democrat version of big government. We should expect continued clashes over whose ox is getting gored and whose friends are receiving benefits, but not over questions of the appropriateness of government goring any ox or rewarding/harming political bedfellows.
We should all hope for the day when choosing leaders means choosing between those who endorse big government and those who pursue the form of government prescribed by the Constitution.
Eventually, we will need to be led away from the interventionist philosophy that so many leaders of the twentieth century have thrust upon us. The current jockeying for positions of power in Washington, while politically fascinating, will unfortunately not significantly change the direction of our country.