Is This Country Governable?

Making my way through National Airport in Washington, D.C., recently, I bumped into two members of Congress. They were heading home after a rugged week on Capitol Hill. And they looked battered by the budget battles. "Glad you came along," one of them hailed me. "We were just wondering something, and maybe you've got the answer: Is this country governable? Are we ready to do what we have to? What do you think, Chuck?" It was a poignant question. I've been around politics a long time. I've seen countless good men and women come to Washington flush full of enthusiasm and conviction. And I've seen the corridors of power corrupt some and crush others. And today serious, good members of Congress are wondering: Is this country governable? Why would two congressmen ask such a depressing question? Because even the Republicans, with solid majorities in the Senate and House, haven't been able to make much headway in controlling our voracious appetite to spend more than we have. Take school lunches paid for with federal tax dollars: 56 percent of the kids in America today get federally subsidized lunches at school. But only 22 percent are from homes below the poverty level. So the Republicans pledged to revamp this wasteful program—turn it into block grants for the states. And what happened? Agribusiness interests and the howl in the media over not helping kids have so far blocked it. The congressmen staggering home from Washington with me were even more frustrated about the National Endowment for the Arts. "If there's one area that voters told us they were enraged over, it was funding pornographic art," one of them told me. "And what happened [in Congress]? We tried to cut it and . . . all we could cut was $5 million." And then he sighed, "If this Congress with the mandate it received last fall can't cut the National Endowment for the Arts, then I ask you: Is this country governable?" It's a good question. The fact is, the American people say they want streamlined government, they vote for budget-cutting officials, and then reforms get waylaid on Capitol Hill. And as a result, we are saddling our grandchildren with unconscionable debt. But the budget mess only illustrates a deeper dilemma. Our real problem is this: The main premise of self-government is that people will be willing to obey the dictates of their consciences to be responsible citizens, pay their bills, and place the greater interest of the country ahead of their selfish pursuits. And their elected representatives will govern responsively. Yet, when Congress can't even balance the books because we're all captive to "special interests," then we are dangerously close to pulling the rug out from under the political consensus that makes self-government possible. Right now, your member of Congress is heading home for the Easter recess. There will be public meetings, perhaps in your district. I urge you to attend them. Tell them you want self-government to survive—and that balancing the federal budget is a litmus test of our commitment to self-government. Congress needs to know that the vast majority of the American people will no longer tolerate "politics as usual."  


Chuck Colson


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