The Buck Stops Where?

President Truman had a sign on his desk in the Oval Office that said, “The buck stops here.” As I’ve listened to the national debates and other debates at every level on the economy, jobs, and the national debt, I couldn’t help but think that the question facing America today is where does the buck stop now.

In Thursday night’s Vice Presidential debate, in his closing statement one of the candidates said:

And my whole life has been devoted to leveling the playing field for middle-class people, giving them an even break, treating Main Street and Wall Street the same, hold them to the same responsibility.

It’s a great expression – a level playing field – and something everyone in both major parties would say they are for. But what does it mean?

For the socialist, a level playing field means you level everything. It means the results should be equal. But that is not holding everyone to the “same responsibility.”

While this will seem harsh to modern ears that confuse the consequences of irresponsibility with the hardships that can befall all of us through no fault or lack of responsibility of our own, irresponsible people need to be allowed to reap the fruits of their irresponsibility because it is only by doing so that they are encouraged to be responsible. Those who receive what they are not due are deprived of the natural correction toward responsibility that the consequences of irresponsibility bring. Unless we mistakenly think that encouraging irresponsibility is love and kindness, then we have harmed both the responsible and the irresponsible. Only in that sense — of harming everyone — have we held both groups of people to the “same responsibility.”

But here is the kicker: removing the consequences of irresponsibility by taking from the responsible to give to the irresponsible is a problem that has infected both major parties. To take from responsible taxpayers the fruits of their labor to prop up either irresponsible individuals or irresponsible businesses is wrong.

By saying there are some businesses too important for the government to let fail, some conservatives do the same thing with Wall Street and Main Street that they lament and condemn when it comes to individual welfare. Whether it’s oil companies, green energy companies or, yes, even Big Bird, we need to let the private sector, through the unseen hand of free markets, reward those who businesses and organizations are responsible and encourage those who are not responsible to become responsible.

Letting some businesses, organizations, and industries continue to reap the fruit due responsible taxpayers while making others pay their own way is not a level playing field. It is not encouraging the same level of responsibility. If we don’t insist that our political parties begin to create a true level playing field across the board, we will never get our government’s fiscal house in order.

Holding everyone to the same level of responsibility, rightly understood, is essentially what we used to call justice. Justice is impartially rendering to everyone their due based upon established principles of rectitude.

Other than personal and national security, one of the first orders of civil government is to establish justice. But it is not justice for civil government to take from the responsible what is due them to give to the irresponsible what is not due them. That’s injustice. And that injustice is aggravated by the fact that the taking and giving by those in government is too often done, not on the basis of impartiality, but on the basis of friendships and level of political support.

You can’t fool Mother Justice forever. As a matter of justice, she will eventually bring about the consequences of injustice. So, if we’re ever going to stop our bucks from running us into un-repayable debt and economic oblivion, then the bucks need to stop going in the pockets of those whom one political party or the other favors.