An Argument for the Importance of Govt
We often hear the other side. Its important to hear from someone who can talk about the need for
SUN AUG 14, 2011 AT 06:00 PM PDT
Government is the solution
It says something about "general welfare" in here.
One of the odd things about having a leadership position in local politics is being asked to endorse candidates so they can put your name and title on their campaign literature. There is something flattering about seeing a piece of campaign mail with your name on it arrive in your mailbox, at least the first few times it happens, but even more importantly, candidates who come seeking your endorsement have to earn it by at least promising that they will pay heed to whatever your issue is if they don't have an established track record of action in support of it, thus providing some measure of accountability and leverage toward someone who would, upon getting elected, have some authority to advance the cause.
Some time ago, I was sitting down for a coffee with a likely candidate to discuss a race—a standard occurrence early in an election cycle when the field of potential candidates is just beginning to come into focus. When the pleasantries had been dispensed with and it was time for brass tacks, I was asked a very simple question: What do you care the most about? What motivates you? And for an embarrassing few seconds, I was honestly stumped for an answer: obviously, fair taxation policy is something about which I have been spilling much virtual ink in recent months, but the same goes for full rights for the LGBT community and for women, as well as defending the social safety net, promotion of alternatives to the fossil fuel economy, ending counterproductive foreign military intervention and protecting civil liberties against unwarranted and unconstitutional intrusions. Just mentioning any of these issues individually without bringing up the others, I thought, would have been inadequate to express what could only be defined as a unifying yet unexpressed political principle.
Republicans love to portray progressivism as a desire for burdensome government interference in the lives of private individuals and businesses, but a simple inspection of the issues that unite progressives reveals easily that such a simplistic analysis is far from accurate. It is not only a question of the size or heavy-handedness of government: advancing some of these issues, such as more aggressive regulation and a stronger safety net, do indeed require larger government, but some of them, such as equal rights for LGBT Americans and the defense of the Fourth Amendment, just request that government stop discriminating and get out of the way. The arbiter is also not a libertarian idea of individual freedom; the existence of social security and the taxes necessary to fund them, as well as many regulations on both individuals and corporations, do detract from individual freedom.
The key to the nature of progressivism is the realization that the size and scope of government and the freedom of the individual do not stand in diametrical opposition, as conservatives and libertarians would have one believe. Instead, the progressive vision of government is simple: government is the entity most responsible for ensuring equality of opportunity. The children of the rich will always have a leg up on the children of the poor: they will often be sent to the best private schools. Their parents will be able to afford to send them to the best universities, regardless of a scholarship. When they graduate from college, they will have easier access to employment because of the connections that so often come hand-in-hand with money and prestige. The government can never mandate equality, but it can at least offer an opportunity for advancement. Our tax dollars fund public schools to ensure that everyone has a chance. Our tax dollars fund scholarships and grants to ever so slightly reduce the unfairness that makes one child unable to go to a good university while another with no better qualifications can go, owing to nothing but the fortunate circumstance of parentage. The same principle is at the core of a progressive mindset regarding the relationship between a government and its people. For instance, government can promote equality for women by creating regulations and laws that ensure equal pay for equal work, but it can do the same for the LGBT community by eliminating the regulations that discriminate against them. People should similarly be free to breathe clean air, and free to feel sure that their employers have taken adequate precaution to ensure that as employees, they will not get maimed at the workplace.
This agenda is the unique province of government. The private sector, after all, has no particular interest in women's equality if it can get away with paying them less. It has no particular interest in cleaner air if it bears none of the health costs involved with treating the consequences. But rather than be proud of the government and the public institutions that have turned the United States into the most prosperous polity the world has ever seen, the scions of the conservative movement have somehow successfully branded America's accomplishments as occurring in spite of the same government that created the environment that allowed them to prosper, rather than because of it.
Click the link at the top of the page to read it all.