Observing US:
A column about America,
by Marylaine Block
originally published by
Fox News Online, 1998-2000


#78, March 14, 2000


AN EXCESS OF CERTAINTY

by Marylaine Block

So, the suspense is over, and we're down to two candidates. Flawed as the reporting has been about their policies, we do know their core beliefs. We know Gore believes government has the power as well as the duty to help people solve their problems. We know Bush is equally sure government helps best by getting out of the way so that the free market and private philanthropy can solve our problems.

And oh, are they certain. Al Gore never even says "Um" when someone asks him a question. It doesn't matter what you ask, he's proposed a law that will clear that problem right up. George W. may inveigh against one-size-fits-all federal solutions, but he is nonetheless certain that there's no problem that can't be solved by cutting taxes.

The problem with certainties is that they have a way of crashing into reality. Presidents have to deal with the unexpected -- the AIDS epidemic, the fall of the Soviet Union, assassinations, revolutions... And even the best-intended government solutions can become next year's problems -- savings and loan deregulation was, as advertised, an engine of investment, but much of it was foolish and venal wheeling and dealing that wiped out people's life savings and cost taxpayers billions to reimburse them.

Reporters were dead wrong, I think, in carping about inconsistencies in Al Gore's position on abortion over the years. It's the only sign I've seen in this entire campaign of how a candidate's thinking evolved over time as he struggled with the moral complexity of an issue. George W. says Jesus changed his heart, but I'm more interested in knowing how Jesus changed his ideas and his thought processes.

I'd far rather know our candidates' doubts than their certainties. I'd like to know how they arrive at their decisions, especially when new information and ideas challenge their long-held beliefs. Toward that goal, I have some questions I'd like to ask them:

Mr. Vice President, as the son of a senator, you grew up knowing both rich, powerful people and struggling Tennessee farmers and townspeople. How did these people help develop your conviction that government could and should make people's lives better?

You went to VietNam when you could easily have avoided it. Did it bother you that the politicians who sent soldiers off to war were so careful to make sure they were other people's sons? Did VietNam make you aware that terrible things can happen to a lot of ordinary people when the assumptions and information policymakers rely on are mistaken?

As an environmentalist and a believer in government as a solver of problems, what do you do when government actually damages the environment? When government subsidies to roads and suburban housing causes sprawl and hollows out the cities? When dams destroy ecosystems? When the Forest Service paves over more land than the entire interstate highway system has?

Governor Bush, you don't want us to hold against you whatever it was you did when you were young and irresponsible. Why haven't you offered the same sort of forgiveness for young first-time drug offenders in Texas, and treatment rather than tough prison terms?

You're an education reformer who believes all children can and should learn, but Texas hasn't equalized funding for urban, rural and suburban schools. How would you make sure poor children in all areas have clean, safe schools, enough teachers, challenging courses, and the books and supplies they need to learn, when local tax bases can't pay for them?

You've spent your life around the oil business. There is now an overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming is happening, that fossil fuels are a primary cause, and that Americans use a disproportionate amount of these fuels. What evidence would it take for you to decide that our nation might need to change our energy consumption habits?

Certainties are easy and cheap; they can even be passed down to us without our ever having to think about them at all. Just once, I'd like to hear a candidate say, "I don't know." I'd like to hear him say "I'm still thinking about that. We could try _____, but that could cause ______; on the other handů."

I'd vote for that candidate in a heartbeat.




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