Simplistic Solutions

The 2012 presidential campaign is off to an unserious start.

Politicians, especially presidential candidates, have never been much for embracing complexity. So it's not surprising that the 2012 race already has entered the stage of oversimplification. As the problems confronting the United States-from dealing with a seemingly endless recession to overhauling health care to drawing down U.S. forces from two major overseas conflicts-grow more complex, the political class seems to be embracing more simplistic solutions.

In early June, GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty threw his hat into the oversimplification ring, proposing his Google Test: "If you can find a good or service on the Internet, then the federal government probably doesn't need to be doing it," he said. Analysts were quick to point out that approach would mean, for example, the privatization of the military services.

Indeed, this is nothing but a high-tech variation on the old Yellow Pages test for deciding whether government functions should be outsourced. And the reason it's never fully applied is because it quickly falls apart. Sometimes, the reasons are practical: FedEx and UPS do the same thing the U.S. Postal Service does, but they don't deliver to every address in the country. Other times, political considerations intrude: Does Pawlenty favor abolishing the network of Veterans Affairs hospitals because there are plenty of nongovernment hospitals? I doubt it.

Pawlenty wasn't alone on the oversimplification trail. Former Godfather's Pizza executive and Republican presidential contender Herman Cain made a speech just days before Pawlenty's in which he pledged not to sign any bill more than three pages long. Setting aside the term-paper practicalities (What font would be allowed? Is single-spacing OK?), the serious issue this proposal ignores is that legislation is complex because government is responsible for dealing with a complex world. Wishing that away in the name of simplicity is at best naïve.

Not to be outdone in the race to score political points with simplistic solutions, President Obama took to the Internet in mid-June to highlight the administration's new campaign to root out wasteful government spending. In a video posted at the White House site, he gleefully mocked "pointless waste," "stupid spending" and "ridiculous practices." Can you give us an example, Mr. President?

"Did you know that federal government pays for a website devoted to a folk music ensemble made up of forest rangers?" Obama said. "They're called the Fiddlin' Foresters. I'll put their music on my iPod, but I'm not paying for their website."

And there you have it, America. The solution to our deficit problem: Get the Fiddlin' Foresters off the Internet.

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