A couple of days ago I read a Reddit column that reminded me of my regrets about the second war in Iraq. Saddam Hussein was an evil and corrupt man who deserved to be forcibly removed from power. The question was how. Part of me was skeptical that any well intentioned regime change by an outside power would ever work. The US needed to win not only the war but the hearts and minds of the people. Everything had to work perfectly in a place beset with almost intractable political problems. It sounded like a job that was too big and complicated to work. Despite the odds I put my faith that our government could make things right.
Not very long ago we had some well intentioned people in business and government who wanted everyone to have the chance to own their home. Their policies lead to a real estate bubble so big that when it collapsed, it threatened the entire financial system of the United States. Most people felt the financial companies should feel the pain by fixing the problems they created but the problem was so big it threatened the entire financial system. So with reluctant skepticism we embarked down a different path of subsidizing and consolidating the banking system. We combined banks and other financial institutions we would never allowed to happened in normal times. As part of this grand bargain we hoped the money spent on the banks would trickle down to the people who trying to own their home. These were the people whose troubled assets were the focal point of the law. When we fixed this problem the jobs would come back, too. Like most people I put my faith that our government. I wanted this plan to work.
Then there is the Affordable Care Act. It is the centerpiece of the Obama legacy and the greatest accomplishment of progressive politics in the last fifty years. It was supposed to not only expand the health insurance system to more people but it would make health care and insurance more affordable. We were constantly reminded that very few people would be affected by the changes and that if we liked our health insurance and doctors, we could keep them. Once again I felt the pangs of skepticism. Although I wanted this plan to work, it sounded to good to be true.
I look with regret at these three decisions. Even now the general population views them with a mixed sense of success and failure. We do not like to dwell on past failures. In hindsight each decision failed to accomplish its objective so we did something else. With each failure I have become more skeptical that our government can finesse its way through poorly thought out policies. Weapons of mass destruction were not found. Middle class families had their homes and dreams foreclosed on. Affordable health care is still a dream. One of the greatest features of American exceptionalism was our government’s ability to transform bad political policies into workable policies that grew middle class wealth. We took our eyes off of the ball.