The Role of Government
I have in my bio how I think that government serves a purpose. It often functions very poorly and it’s not always the Republicans who cause it. Democrats have certainly been responsible for it’s malfunctioning over the years. They had control of both houses for over 40 years and had plenty of opportunity to screw things up. But, simply because our government doesn’t always function properly doesn’t mean that we should do away with it or have the knee-jerk reaction to cut it, make it smaller as if somehow that will make it operate more effectively. President Reagan was the one who really started the brainwashing of the right to simply repeat the talking point like robots, “government is bad, musssst stoppp big government”, oh, but don’t take away my social security or medicare. And of course Reagan went on to expand the government and quadruple the national debt in 8 years. But, the brainwashing helped to mask all that and it continues to this day.
Steve Benen at Washington Monthly had a great post about President Obama’s address at the University of Michigan’s Commencement on this very topic. This is from that…(emphasis mine)
And periodically — in his first State of the Union, at various public events — Obama will, with varying degrees of subtlety, remind the electorate that the government can be a productive, constructive role in advancing the country and empowering its people. The president’s audience in Ann Arbor heard some extended thoughts on this very subject.
“…American democracy has thrived because we have recognized the need for a government that, while limited, can still help us adapt to a changing world…. The democracy designed by Jefferson and the other founders was never intended to solve every problem with a new law or a new program. Having thrown off the tyranny of the British Empire, the first Americans were understandably skeptical of government. Ever since, we have held fast to the belief that government doesn’t have all the answers, and we have cherished and fiercely defended our individual freedom. That is a strand of our nation’s DNA.
“But the other strand is the belief that there are some things we can only do together, as one nation — and that our government must keep pace with the times. When America expanded from a few colonies to an entire continent, and we needed a way to reach the Pacific, our government helped build the railroads. When we transitioned from an economy based on farms to one based in factories, and workers needed new skills and training, our nation set up a system of public high schools. When the markets crashed during the Depression and people lost their life savings, our government put in place a set of rules and safeguards to make sure that such a crisis never happened again. And because our markets and financial system have evolved since then, we’re now putting in place new rules and safeguards to protect the American people.
“This notion hasn’t always been partisan. It was the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, who said that the role of government is to do for the people what they cannot do better for themselves. He would go on to begin that first intercontinental railroad and set up the first land-grant colleges. It was another Republican, Teddy Roosevelt, who said that ‘the object of government is the welfare of the people.’ He is remembered for using the power of government to break up monopolies, and establishing our National Park system. Democrat Lyndon Johnson announced the Great Society during a commencement here at Michigan, but it was the Republican president before him, Dwight Eisenhower, who launched the massive government undertaking known as the Interstate Highway System.”
When you look at our history as a nation and think about the role that government has had as our society has evolved, I don’t understand how so many on the right can just reject outright, the role of government in everything. And the motivation in recent years has been monetary, Republicans want to privatize Social Security. The Wall Street folks have such a great track record, let’s give America’s life savings over to them. Great fucking idea! Why didn’t we think of that before? I hope the Republicans pick that mantle back up and run with it because it will be a good wake up call for many in the country who were brainwashed, maybe they can be de-programmed with a public debate on the role of government vs. the greedy private sector. And the private sector is all about greed. There are some exceptions for sure, but the bottom line is the master of all in the private sector. Here is more from Steve Benen’s piece which has an extended excerpt from President Obama’s speech at U of M.
Obama added today:
“Of course, there have always been those who’ve opposed such efforts. They argue that government intervention is usually inefficient; that it restricts individual freedom and dampens individual initiative. And in certain instances, that’s been true. For many years, we had a welfare system that too often discouraged people from taking responsibility for their own upward mobility. At times, we’ve neglected the role that parents, rather than government, can play in cultivating a child’s education. Sometimes regulation fails, and sometimes its benefits do not justify its costs.
“But what troubles me is when I hear people say that all of government is inherently bad. One of my favorite signs from the health care debate was one that read ‘Keep Government Out Of My Medicare,’ which is essentially like saying ‘Keep Government Out Of My Government-Run Health Care.’ For when our government is spoken of as some menacing, threatening foreign entity, it conveniently ignores the fact in our democracy, government is us. We, the people, hold in our hands the power to choose our leaders, change our laws, and shape our own destiny.
“Government is the police officers who are here protecting us and the service men and women who are defending us abroad. Government is the roads you drove in on and the speed limits that kept you safe. Government is what ensures that mines adhere to safety standards and that oil spills are cleaned up by the companies that caused them. Government is this extraordinary public university — a place that is doing life-saving research, catalyzing economic growth, and graduating students who will change the world around them in ways big and small.
“The truth is, the debate we’ve had for decades between more government and less government doesn’t really fit the times in which we live. We know that too much government can stifle competition, deprive us of choice, and burden us with debt. But we’ve also seen clearly the dangers of too little government — like when a lack of accountability on Wall Street nearly led to the collapse of our entire economy.
“So what we should be asking is not whether we need a ‘big government’ or a ‘small government,’ but how we can create a smarter, better government. In an era of iPods and Tivo, where we have more choices than ever before, government shouldn’t try to dictate your lives. But it should give you the tools you need to succeed. Our government shouldn’t try to guarantee results, but it should guarantee a shot at opportunity for every American who’s willing to work hard.
I obviously don’t expect the president to emphasize this point in every speech, or in the context of every debate, but the more Obama defends the basic role of government, the better. Especially as we did ourselves out of a hole created in large part by the absence of government, the public’s appetite for state activism should be stronger.
I think that the president will continue to talk about the good that government can do for people. He did it with health care and financial reform and other issues too. I’ve heard him use it pretty consistently and I think it has to be done. The de-programming of America has multiple levels. It is being done with foreign policy too, which has only really had 8 years of brainwashing under the Cheney administration, which only lasted 6 years. In 2006, someone smacked W. upside the head and said, dude, Dick-head Cheney led you astray. There was a huge change in the Bush administration once Cheney was locked out. Prior to Bush/Cheney, foreign policy was one area where partisanship was left at the door. There were common principles that were passed on from one administration to the next, regardless of the political party of that administration. Much of it was due to the lifetime public servants in the State Department and other agencies. Bush changed all that and put in political people, often a person who was opposed to the very job – UN Ambassador John Bolton comes to mind. He appointed heads of regulatory agencies who came right out of the industry they were tasked to regulate. This systemic damage that Bush did to our government was really akin to infiltrating the agency and then taking it down from the inside. Volumes will be written about the Bush administration’s raping of our democracy and the shifting of trillions of dollars from the pockets of taxpayers to the pockets of those who can afford to not pay any taxes (mostly Haliburton, Blackwater etc). We need to lock them motherfuckers up or at least waterboard them.
Steve Benen gives an example of one of the Republicans who fell victim to the propoganda – the brainwashing…
Of course, we know it’s not. I often think about a post from March in which we talked about a woman in Texas battling breast cancer. She and her husband were unemployed, and deeply worried about the future. But she was adamantly against the Affordable Care Act, no matter how much it would benefit her family, because she feared government abuses and inefficiency. “Every government program,” the woman said, “none of them work very well.”
This exact same family was getting by on unemployment benefits (a government program), and is holding onto some health coverage through COBRA (another government program), which they could afford thanks to federal subsidies (through another government program).
But this woman, like too many Americans, had come to find conservative rhetoric so powerful, she was willing to oppose the very safety net her family needed, because the net would be provided by her own government — not realizing that she was already benefiting from the net already in place.
And of course the new face of the Republican Party, Rand Paul, is forcing a debate about the role of government too and it is something that needs to be done. Let’s shine a light on the radicals in this country, get it out in the open.