The final episodes of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” begin airing this Sunday night. Perhaps the best dramatic series currently on television, “Breaking Bad” shows what happens when people engage in bad – and sometimes horrific – acts in order to attain positive results. The show serves as a cautionary tale for those engaged in public policy as well whenever nefarious means are determined to justify utopian ends.
Just as with the characters of “Breaking Bad” the violation of laws and circumvention of constitutional principles by public officials and bureaucrats will lead to far worse outcomes than those originally perceived by decision makers. Irish statesman Edmund Burke, a father of conservatism, was quick to point out that straying from traditional wisdom brings untoward consequences. This calls to mind the “slippery slope” argument that postulates a single wrongdoing – regardless the intention of providing great benefits – may set off a chain of events that most certainly will prompt catastrophic results.
A brief summary of the series thus far is in order: The show’s lead character, Walter White, is diagnosed with terminal cancer. A meek high-school chemistry teacher with a pregnant wife and disabled teenaged son, White concocts a plan to shuffle off the mortal coil without leaving his family destitute as a result of his medical bills – as well as providing them with a nice little nest egg to boot.
The road to hell, it is said, is paved with good intentions. White’s plan involves cooking high-grade methamphetamine and employing a former student to sell it the endless population of burnouts occupying Albuquerque, N.M. Voila! Problem solved. Cancer: 1; Walter White: 2. What could possibly go wrong given this wacky scenario?
White’s seemingly singular bad act, however, sparks events that aren’t intended for viewing by the squeamish. The meth industry, it seems, not only destroys the lives of its users but as well requires robbery, murder of guilty and innocents alike, and subsequent disposal of bodies and associated viscera in order to maintain the business model. As we near the final episodes, White already has killed one of his henchmen, ordered the death of another, orchestrated the assassination of a rival kingpin and passively allowed his surrogate son’s girlfriend to die of a heroin overdose. And, oh yeah, put tons of methamphetamine on the street.
Despite his villainy, viewers are offered an opportunity to see White’s point of view. Certainly he can be forgiven his sins given the fact he has a baby daughter, a palsy-inflicted son and a pretty wife, right?
Unequivocally, absolutely not, and that is the whole point of the series. Much the same dynamic occurs in the public sphere wherein wonderfully named abstractions are given as the ultimate end result of bad policies, which are perpetuated by mostly likeable and sometimes telegenic public figures.
Without belaboring the point, I can think of at least two issues currently facing U.S. citizens in general and Wyoming residents specifically: health insurance and education. While an ideal world for some includes affordable – or even free – healthcare for everyone, and well-educated, above-average students graduating from our nation’s schools, the shortcomings of both Obamacare and Common Core as two means to these ends are readily apparent. One need only listen to the compelling interviews and read the persuasive opinion pieces of my WyLib cohorts Regina Meena on the former and Amy Edmonds on the latter to realize that both programs perniciously promise solutions to the respective issues while abrogating individual and community liberties along the way.
Otto von Bismarck quipped that watching lawmaking was as unappetizing to watch as the making of sausage. Although Walter White renders real people into sausage in both a literal and figurative sense, viewers can at least reassure themselves all the graphic violence and human wasting is Hollywood make-believe. When politicians make their brand of sausage – watch out. Breaking bad, indeed.