(Note:The following essay appeared in the Summer 2006 issue
of "Mackinac Center Impact.")
Many politicians make their
time in office needlessly difficult for everybody. In a quest to "keep an open
mind," they fill their heads with a litany of notions and proposals that
conflict with each other. Adrift without a rudder in the stormy sea of politics,
they waste time and resources foundering in waters they should have avoided in
the first place.
A few principles go a long way
in fixing this problem. That means standing for something more than what the
voters will fall for. It means having a core set of beliefs that act as a
compass — making it easier to stay on course and escape shipwreck.
Republicans won control of
Congress in 1994 because they ran on a platform of ideas that clarified the
distinctions between the parties. Proving that politics is a meat grinder when
it comes to principles, it’s increasingly hard to find anything the GOP really
believes in other than spending whatever it takes to stay in power.
A recent Michigan case also
shows where principles could have prevented trouble. In 2001, Gov. John Engler
unveiled a plan to create a new state agency to spur the expansion of broadband
(high-speed) Internet access in the state. His bill for that purpose passed by
nearly unanimous votes in both houses of the Legislature in the following year.
At the time, the Mackinac
Center for Public Policy was practically alone in warning what would happen if
another state bureaucracy were cranked up. Those warnings, written by Diane S.
Katz, Michael D. LaFaive and Dr. Donald L. Alexander, can still be retrieved on
our Web site. When asked about our objections, the governor said, "If it were up
to the Mackinac Center, there wouldn’t be roads between Midland and Lansing."
Well, a funny thing happened
on the road to government-sponsored Internet access. Barely three years into the
program, the state’s broadband authority has been declared "one of the biggest
flops in state government" by Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema, who was one of
those original enthusiastic "yes" votes. Millions of dollars later, House
Speaker Craig DeRoche says, "Out of the gate, this was a wrong-headed scheme."
They cite fat salaries for an ineffective and overstaffed bureaucracy that
simply gets in the way.
Both men are now saying that
the expansion of broadband should be driven by the marketplace, not government,
and they have moved to abolish the agency. Meanwhile, the market has done a
pretty good job, thank you, of making broadband accessible in 99 percent of all
Michigan zip codes.
Whatever made legislators
think that government should be in the broadband business in the first place? It
certainly wasn’t any principles about the role of government that Republicans
usually claim to support.
Standing for principle is one
of the things you can count on from the Mackinac Center. We may be criticized,
but policymakers need something to steer by as they sail their ship of state.
Lawrence W. Reed is president of the Mackinac Center for
Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland,
Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that
the author and the Center are properly cited.