In his victory speech in Nashville last week, U.S. Senator-elect Lamar Alexander announced that he would pursue goals in his new position similar to those which preoccupied him as governor, and he specified some of his concerns as "jobs, clean air, improved health care, and to restrict the growth of the federal government in Washington, D.C., as much as I can." Some may see that last item in the series as consistent with the previous ones; others (including ourselves, we confess) see it as something of a non sequitur -- an oxymoron, even. In the aftermath of an election which has been ballyhooed so broadly as a victory for President Bush and for the national Republicans, there may be a tendency to overreact and try to make future national policy conform to some supposed popular mandate in favor of battening the hatches and slowing government to a crawl.
If September 11th taught us anything, it was that our logistics and resources were ill-prepared to deal with the prospect of widespread terror attacks -- not to mention the need to ferret out and eliminate enemy activities on a worldwide basis. President Bush's ongoing War on Terror and his contemplated action against Iraq may be only the tip of a very large iceberg, and it is hard to see how downsizing the government at just this moment in time is in any sense appropriate -- especially when we throw in jobs, clean air, improved health care, and the rest of a whole panoply of overdue -- and often unanticipated -- needs. All by itself, the envisioned Department of Homeland Security, rightly an administration priority, will be as open-ended as any agency brought about by World War II or the Cold War.
We welcome the accelerated rise to prominence of Memphis congressman Harold Ford Jr., whose abilities are clearly of the first order and whose prospects are promising. We find ourselves wondering, however, about the specifics that accompanied his offer of himself as House minority leader. His desire to pursue more business and personal tax cuts of the sort that have already led to deficits, as well as his acceptance of the Iraq agenda and other Bush initiatives, do not strike us as distinct enough alternatives to existing national policy. We would prefer to see Ford and other Democrats make the case -- and a clearer one than party spokesmen managed during the recent election -- for resolute government action on behalf of the nation's bona fide goals, foreign and domestic.
Even on the local scene, government may come in for more bashing than is useful or appropriate. One of the disservices committed by those who abused a lenient Shelby County government credit-card policy was to invite a backlash that could end up cutting deeply into legitimate government functions.
In every governmental sphere that we can see -- local, state, federal -- there would seem to be a need for specific governmental activity. To achieve it, serious economies must be effected, as well as some ingenious and overdue consolidation of functions. If this is what Senator-elect Alexander meant -- and not criticism of government for its own sake -- then we concur.