ERROL CASTENS: Sometimes we didn’t learn it all in kindergarten

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

A few years back, Robert Fulghum got a lot of amens for the premise of his book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”
Its principles include, among others, “Play fair. … Wash your hands before you eat. … Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. … Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, hold hands, watch for traffic and stick together.”
It is a pleasant thought, but the premise has a few shortcomings as a blueprint for governing the country. Milk and cookies, naps and hand-holding only go so far in defending our borders, negotiating treaties and establishing standards for interstate commerce.
Kindergarten precepts especially fall short for managing all these efforts on a budget.
Unfortunately, many of the 536 people charged with making federal law don’t seem to want to make grown-up decisions.
Ask a typical small child whether he’d rather have a new toy or an ice cream: What’s this crazy “OR” nonsense you’re talking? Of COURSE he wants both!
And that’s how we get to $16 trillion in debt. Many times more that we’ve promised and can’t possibly pay in Social Security and Medicare will only come due after most of the current “leaders” have long since retired, either to sell their influence or to sit around and admire the taxpayer-funded buildings named for them.
• Do you want the federal government to own one acre in every five nationwide, or do you want it to provide Medicaid for poor families? Of COURSE Congress and the White House want both!
• Limitless unemployment compensation or military installations in nearly every congressional district? Congress and the White House want both!
• Dairy subsidies, asparagus subsidies, tobacco subsidies, sugar subsidies or pine plantation subsidies? Congress and the White House want them all!
• Film-industry subsidies or more police officers? Both, naturally!
• Hiking-and-biking trails hailed as “transportation projects” or green-energy subsidies? Both!
• Ethanol mandates or road taxes funded by petroleum sales? Both, of course!
• High-speed railroads or disability payments? Both!
• Employment programs or school subsidies? Both!
• A war on some drugs (hat tip to Alan Korwin) or protection of our borders? In this case, Congress and the White House apparently want the first but not the second.
Judging from the fiscal cliff negotiations that kicked the proverbial can yet again down the road, we desperately need some grownups in leadership.
Term limits wouldn’t solve everything, but they would be a good start.
Errol Castens (errol.castens@journalinc.com) is the Daily Journal’s Oxford Bureau reporter.