Well, who won?
We might let that popular and logical query go for the moment. There are other aquatic specimens to fry in the context of Monday night's so-called debate: chief among them Hillary Clinton's try at addressing the leadership question she seems to be hanging out there like damp laundry
Clinton asked her national audience a soggy and bedraggled rhetorical question: "Who can put into action the plans that will make your life better?"
"Plans"? Make life "better" for me and thee?
A great cry of horror ought to have arisen across the nation. It didn't. You see, we're accustomed to this manner of framing the question of presidential duties. The president, or the latest aspirant to that dignity, has got a Plan for us. Once enacted, the Plan will make things unimaginably better, nicer, sweeter, kinder, more joyful, more full of sunshine and delight.
"Plan": There's a four-letter word for you. Ugh! And double-ugh!
We don't need, Lord help us, another Plan. We don't need politicians — who lack moral credentials superior to those of grocery checkers or flugelhorn players — prescribing for the varied conditions of 330 million Americans living, supposedly, in a land of varied opportunities and challenges.
We're in the mess we're in now due in no small measure to government's super-nanny appetite for framing "plans." That's not what the government, most of the time, is supposed to do — not in the vision of the framers.
I said most of the time. A government without duties of some sort to the peace and freedom of the populace would be no government at all. The wind would blow through it, as through an open window.
Americans by and large, nevertheless, long got by without the plenitude of plans our leaders see as essential to the good life — health-promoting (Obamacare, anti-fossil fuel measures), income-providing (higher minimum wages) family-reinforcing (paid maternity leave), mind-opening (free college), comfort-reinforcing (taxpayer-funded mortgage programs). And so on.
We're a bigger, more complex and more contentious society than the wilderness republic inhabited by Benjamin Franklin and James Madison. Naturally, we have a bigger government and more numerous programs of uplift and improvement. The resultant problem is two-fold.
First, the attitude that Clinton takes for granted and revels in: the hunger of the people for more programs of uplift and improvement, and for the better tuning of existing programs. Yes, we the people of the United States take for granted — take as our civic right — those measures that move income around from earner to earner and establish regulations, increasingly harsh and formal in kind, for the living of life.
"That's how life works!" we seem to affirm. Well, does it or doesn't it work that way?
The second part of the old I've-got-a-plan conundrum: the taut ties of dependency linking the people to a government meant originally to guarantee and protect their liberties. A paterfamilias government dangles goodies over our heads. Fewer and fewer voters cry out for the government to just drop the stuff and to let us get on with defining our own notions of good — irrespective of Clinton's notions, those embodied in her "plans" for us.
Lord knows the lady has "plans," as does, by virtue of his membership in the Great Society of Presidential Candidates, Donald Trump. Trump, businessman as he is, understands private — as distinguished from public — plans. The likelihood is that, if elected in preference to Clinton, he would not come bouncing toward us, waving a briefcase full of ideas meant to make life ever so much better than it has been. I discern about him an altogether commendable hardness of head that in no way reflects hardness of heart.
Oh, that "heart" business! In our day of plans galore, office-seekers of the Clinton variety love to advertise their love of us: their compassion, the softness and purity of their hearts. A truly loving politician would seek ways to reduce government dependency, the kind that comes directly from all that — uh — compassion. I tend to doubt that Clinton has just that goal in mind.
William Murchison's latest book is "The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson." To find out more about William Murchison, and to see features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.