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Big Government vs. Good Government

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

A few years ago, the Securities and Exchange Commission looked at Bernie Madoff’s operation and said it was doing things just fine. Madoff then allegedly went on to scam $50 billion from unknowing investors. Congress instituted the Alternative Minimum Tax to go after a couple millionaires but forgot to adjust it for inflation. It now threatens as many as 24 million taxpayers each year.

Government brought us the Katrina fiasco, a broken immigration process and the Department of Motor Vehicles. So naturally, President-elect Barack Obama wants to expand government. And not by a little, either. We’re talking epic proportions. It’s as if producer Jerry Bruckheimer were doing a film about expanding government–- lots of crises, lots of special effects and lots of cost.

What’s ironic is that, at the very same time Obama is supporting the expansion of government, he’s pointing out what a miserable failure it can be. That’s right, Obama has come out and admitted that the government plan to force the new digital TV system on Americans is a failure and needs to be delayed.

Transition co-chair John D. Podesta asked for the February 17 deadline to be extended. “There is insufficient support for the problems consumers (particularly low income, rural and elderly Americans) will experience as a result of the analog signal cutoff,” he wrote.

He’s right. The program is a fiasco. This planned switch was approved by Congress in 1996. Thirteen years later, it’s still not ready for prime time. Here’s what The Los Angeles Times revealed on January 9:

“The unspecified delay would give the government time to fix a consumer-help program that ran out of money this week.”

According to The Times, the U.S. is making a profit off of inconveniencing millions of households:

“The government took in $19.6 billion last year by auctioning existing analog TV airwaves to telecommunications companies for new wireless services, but Congress allocated less than $2 billion to educate consumers about the transition and issue coupons to buy needed converter boxes” the paper wrote.

NBC’s Carol Costello elaborated on the problems in a Jan. 8 broadcast. “The National Association of Broadcasters estimates that more than 19 million households receive over-the-air signals exclusively in their homes, no cable, no satellite. Another 14.9 million have secondary TV sets that are also over the air.” Costello explained that “more than 24 million households have requested more than 46 million coupons” to buy the converter boxes.

CBS’s Bill Whitaker called it “A huge miscalculation.” It’s what online tech types would refer to as “epic fail.”

It’s not news to conservatives. Traditional conservatives understand what Ronald Reagan said that government isn’t the solution, government is the problem. And Obama will only make the problem bigger.

It’s not that government is all bad. Anyone who believes that is either an idiot or an anarchist –- not that there is much difference. Conservatives believe in a firm military to keep them free and place great trust in our servicemen and women. Conservatives also believe in law and order and don’t advocate outsourcing problems to Judge Judy.

Conservatives do believe in government –- just not the uber-state that controls our every move.

Obama’s problem lies in his mindset of relying on government solutions. Government, he’s said, is the only one to get us out of this (fill in the blank) mess. But often, government is the reason we are there in the first place.

Government decided to switch TV from analog to digital. Now that the switch isn’t going well, government has to react to try and fix a problem it created in the first place. That’s the story you won’t find on the evening news.

Instead, we are told capitalism is dead. On October 10 The Washington Post proclaimed “the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression is claiming another casualty: American-style capitalism.” In its place are big government solutions to, well, just about everything from childhood obesity to environment to the Mother-of-All-Bombs –- the economy.

The media are looking to Obama to take quick, decisive action even if that ends up making things worse. Tomorrow, he’ll be pushing healthcare or theoretical climate change or mandating that we all get a Labradoodle instead of a pit bull.

It’s the mindset that government must protect us from everything. Sure, some problems are just too big to solve on our own. But there’s an ugly hubris to the notion that people who run an enterprise that makes a profit can’t be trusted and those who lurk in government buildings are beyond reproach.

The truth of the matter is both groups can do good things. And both can make horrible mistakes. It’s a lesson for the media and the public. As the static over the digital TV conversion reminds us that, when it comes to government, sometimes less is more.

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