Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

June 27, 2013

Vitamins and aspirin

By Nathan Harter
Greensburg Daily News

---- — I enjoy making analogies, especially when they are not the obvious ones, so that a reader can think about local public questions in a new way.

Perhaps by thinking in a new way, the community can improve itself over time. The analogy I offer is simply an invitation to innovate, an open door for creative ideas.

This week, consider the difference between vitamins and aspirin. Aspirin promises to make you feel better fairly quickly about some ailment or complaint you are having, such as a headache or muscle soreness. It is a temporary response to an undesirable condition.

Vitamins taken by themselves rarely make you feel better, certainly not in the short term. And they are not necessarily taken in response to any particular complaint. Instead, you take them routinely to prevent something from developing later, just as I take Lutein because I’m supposedly susceptible to macular degeneration.

Here then is the analogy. Some political action is more like an aspirin, and some is more like vitamins. Sure, in both cases the ultimate health and well-being of the community is the objective, but political “aspirin” is an attempt to alleviate a felt problem that needs to get better soon, whereas political “vitamins” are ongoing practices that prevent conditions from getting worse. Need examples?

In Hampton Roads, interstate 64 between Williamsburg and Newport News is routinely congested. Two lanes going each direction is simply not enough to handle the volume of traffic, and the situation is worse now when families are traveling on vacation. Not infrequently, traffic comes to a standstill.

The congestion cries out for an aspirin, and even though experts disagree on the best remedy, they all understand the nature of the problem and seek some kind of alleviation. And so, like physicians deliberating which medicine to prescribe, the experts talk about charging tolls, paving over green space, and building special through-lanes for cars with more than one person.

Political vitamins on the other hand are akin to discipline, exercise, a regular attentiveness to fiscal responsibility and employee oversight and transparency – or in other words the never-ending attentiveness to good government. This politics is hardly sexy. You often notice it only when things go wrong. Still, somebody has to mind the little routines that keep the process flowing smoothly.

Now, for anyone who has a terrible neck ache, you know that all of your attention is on the pain. You want relief…and fast. Instant, complete relief sounds nice. On the other hand, it’s often easy to neglect your vitamins. They cost money. You have to remember to swallow them. And it’s not always evident why you should bother.

A shrewd politician will appreciate the importance of each, both aspirin and vitamins, even though a demagogue will pass out aspirins like candy and rarely mention the day-to-day, boring administration that actually decreases the need for aspirin in the first place. Beware the candidate who promises to fix this and that, but seems to have no aptitude or interest in simply managing operations.

Right now, many in the Tea Party sound like insistent parents telling us that we need to get back to basics and quit looking for convenient remedies. Uphold the Constitution, enforce the law, let some social trends take their course, no matter how stressful it seems, and always, always mind the budget. To that extent, I say God bless them.