Will: Americans should not focus on government for help Washington Post syndicated columnist George Will answered questions at a brief press conference before speaking at The University of South Dakota Tuesday night as part of the Arthur A. Volk Symposium. by M. Jill Sundstrom The condition of the United States is reasonably good, according to George F. Will, but it�s not due to government. Instead, it�s the result of social learning and more sensible behavior by the American people.
Nationally syndicated Washington Post columnist and television commentator Will was the keynote speaker April 20 for the Arthur A. Volk Symposium hosted by The University of South Dakota School of Business. He addressed �Public Affairs, Public Policy and American Society.�
�The American system is working well because this is a well-founded country,� Will said. Still there are problems.
In the matter of Social Security and Medicare � the main ligaments of the welfare state, according to Will � both Republicans and Democrats have agreed to shore them up.
�It�s gone on for several generations,� he said. �So far so good. The government keeps handing out entitlement programs. But Americans have to re-evaluate themselves. Something must be done.�
It�s a paradox, Will said.
�The population is aging,� he continued. �The government has been an intergenerational transfer agent and that will increase. This will accelerate.�
Demographic studies have indicated that by the year 2050, several million Americans will be 100 years old or older.
�That could make a city � a very quiet city,� Will mused. �Go ahead and laugh, but it will be the first American city without sexually transmitted diseases.�
On the serious side, however, Will is concerned about how itlement programs affect the national budget.
�The welfare state is swallowing the budget,� he said. �Fifty-two percent of the national budget is going to entitlement programs.�
Sprinkling baseball stories throughout his speech, Will compared the Clinton administration with the words of a feisty umpire, one who stuck his chin into a much bigger umpire and asked, �Are you gonna get any better, or is this it?�
�In regard to the current administration,� Will said, �this is it.�
Clinton came to Washington convinced that he could reinvigorate the government, Will said. In the past, looking back to the Cold War and television�s role in covering presidential activities, the American people began to confuse prominence with power.
�But Clinton came into office when the prestige of government was at an all time low,� Will said. �Clinton became president when the presidency had become a marginalized office. It�s a swollen product of American history.�
It�s another paradox, Will said.
Today, the American people are worrying more about values, �in short, national character,� Will said.
But they cannot focus on the government for help.
�Many of the problems are rooted in behaviors that are not easily changed by government,� he said. �This requires a new approach in how we think.�
Much like the Salk vaccine that became the �silver bullet� in wiping out polio, the government has been viewed as a savior for social ills, Will said. But that�s the wrong focus. The threat of tuberculosis decreased with the development of new medicine, too. But better, healthier living treated the problem at a greater level.
Contrary to the belief that medicine produces better health, ideas, habits and behavior can fix things, too, Will said. Americans must look more toward family values and less to government.
�Government has been the cause of the diseases for which it pretends to be the cure,� Will said.
When habits and mores were discovered to be deteriorating in the 1960s, it was believed the welfare system could take care of things. But, according to Will, it has been working like seat belts.
�When more people began wearing them, their own injuries decreased, while they caused more injury to others,� Will said. �In their feeling of security, they drove more recklessly. The more secure you feel, the more you encourage risky behavior.
�The central tenet of conservatism is this: the success of society is more determined by culture rather than politics,� Will said. �So watch it.�
Will added that the crisis of social values, as he calls it, can be compared to the broken window theory. If a window is broken in a neighborhood and it isn�t fixed, more windows will be broken. As disorder increases, so do broken rules.
�Our government was founded upon the idea of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,� Will said. �Government protects these rights, but it does not deliver happiness. That�s individual responsibility. Excessive reliance on government leads to problems. Individual responsibility is the guiding principle. Every individual must seek his own standard of excellence and divest himself of the reliance on central government.�