Before Promising To Solve the World’s Big Problems, Politicians Should Aim To Fix Potholes

Upon election to office, politicians come to believe that they have the wherewithal to solve the world’s toughest problems. Although they often mishandle the tasks that are assigned to them, politicians dream of changing the Earth’s climate and ending persistent human conditions such inequality and poverty.

Most pols view themselves as the second coming of John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, or even Ronald Reagan, when most of us just want public servants who make sure the potholes are filled, the streets are marginally safe, the government budget balances, the trash gets picked up on time, and homeless people aren’t defecating in our local park.

The latest example of such governmental hubris comes from the county of Los Angeles which, you know, can’t even put an end to alleged gangs among the ranks of its own highly paid deputy sheriffs nor figure out how to run its child-protective services agency in a competent and humane manner. Officials in the county want to solve the loneliness crisis.

The county Board of Supervisors took on an unusually private problem and made it public before Christmas. The Los Angeles Times reported. “They voted unanimously to ask staffers to research how residents are affected by loneliness and isolation and how the county can help—particularly during a pandemic where in-person contact has been off-limits.”

The main cause of our current state of loneliness is depression. Governments want to study why we feel lonely and disconnected, but government pandemic rules limited the ability of Americans to socialize with one another as we approach two years of mandated social-distancing rules.

“Loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, researchers warned in a recent webcast, and the problem is particularly acute among seniors, especially during holidays,” according to the Health Resources and Services Administration. Although you probably did not know there was a federal agency called such, I digress.

“A Harvard University survey conducted in October 2020 found that feelings of social isolation are on the rise during the pandemic, and that those hardest hit are older teens and young adults—61 percent of respondents felt ‘serious loneliness,'” noted a Boston University report. Social media is a place where youth live and breath more than ever before, which makes it difficult for them to help.

It’s not true. I’m not sure what Los Angeles County staffers will add to the debate, but the board might have thought about that scenario when it previously embraced draconian shutdowns rather than more reasonable and flexible pandemic-related restrictions. This is such a government phenomenon—create a crisis, then vow to solve it for us.

Fortunately, the county isn’t planning on repeating its mistakes as the Omicron variant emerges, at least not as of this writing. It’s not my intention to disparage county supervisors. They acknowledge that the Great Alienation was caused by pandemic-related policies. You know their intentions but what you can do about them.

“We didn’t mean to do it,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said during the board meeting. “We didn’t intend to cause isolation. In some instances, we can be a problem. Indeed. Government officials aren’t trying to create many problems, but it is a good idea to be skeptical next time they try to rescue us.

Do a Google search of “loneliness epidemic” and you’ll find multiple news stories, government statements, and academic reports—some even pre-dating COVID-19. The well-known novel “Bowling Alone” was published 22 years ago. It highlighted the growing crisis of connectedness due to trends in work and family.

Although I won’t minimise this problem, my spouse gave my children the best tip: Meet up with friends. Shut off your TV. Log out of Facebook. You might contact the county brain trusts. Certain issues go beyond government intervention. Sometimes it is necessary to have control over our lives.

Although we are all aware of the dangers, most people believe politicians will solve all our problems. No one I know knows has ever heard the name Gov. Gavin Newsom’s soaring rhetoric and come away thinking he’ll really change the Earth’s climate—even as he fails to keep his own Employment Development Department from sending billions of dollars in unemployment funds to scammers.

It’s not a Democrat vs. Republican thing, either, as GOP politicians have suddenly discovered the supposed crisis of masculinity just as they have long bemoaned troubles in the American family. Although politicians have a knack for identifying social weaknesses, they are always able to extract votes. However, the solutions that they offer involve increasing their power and income.

I eagerly await Los Angeles County’s report on loneliness, but I still wish county supervisors would spend more time filling the potholes.

This column appeared in The Orange County Register for the first time.