Monday, January 18, 2010

Big Government

Elizabeth Henderson has a concise prescription for what ails the nation's health care system: Limit the federal government's role. "I want government out of my life. I can make my own decisions," Henderson, of Union Grove, said Saturday, as she and others gathered at a "tea party" to protest the health care legislation pending in Congress and other issues. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ms. Henderson probably rode or drove a car, or perhaps even an SUV to her "tea party." She traveled over paved streets from which the snow had been plowed. It was the government that regulated the company that made her vehicle so that it is safe to drive. It was the government that paved and plowed the roads that she drove on.

Yet, she wants the government out of her life.

Perhaps you would object that the subject is not the government, but the huge health care reform legislation that Ms. Henderson is speaking about. Look at Ms. Henderson's statement again. She did not say that she did not want health care reform. She said, "I want the government out of my life."

The boogeyman that the anti-health care reform, anti-tax, tea party crowd continually raises up for excoriation is "big government." At this point, let us dismiss Ms. Henderson. She might be more of a victim of the "tea party" movement than a proponent. Let us focus on the meaning of "big government."

The unquestioned evil of "big government" needs to be questioned.

In this big 21st-century world, just what is so evil about a "big government?"

Can a small government protect its commerce on the high seas from third-world pirates? Can you expect a small government to detect a solitary Nigerian terrorist plotting to board and bomb an international air flight?

The answer is obvious. We want the largest, most powerful government we can have to protect us from foreign threats.

Health care is not a foreign threat. It is a domestic issue. Perhaps we do not need "big government" interfering in domestic issues.

Even here, however, questions must be raised.

Was it "big government" that caused the 2009 financial meltdown? Did big government cause the savings and loan failures, the malfeasance of Enron, or invent no-down-payment mortgages and credit default swaps? Would Bernie Madoff have been caught in his nefarious schemes by a smaller government? Could a bigger government have prevented him from going as far as he did?

We need a big government because this is the largest, most powerful nation in a world with complex international political and economic relations. We need a big government to protect us from nefarious domestic and foreign powers that would rob us of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We need a big government to uphold the Constitution, which is the greatest man-made guarantor of individual liberty the world has ever known.

This country has progressed far beyond the Jeffersonian agrarian republic envisioned by some of the founding fathers, due, paradoxically, to the wisdom of those same founding fathers. A succeeding generation built upon their legacy in a bloody civil war that enlarged the place of the federal government and brought the promise of liberty to a large portion of the populace that the founding fathers had ignored. That promise of liberty came to be more of a reality though the turmoil of reconstruction and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

Is big government really a threat? A big government, grounded in the rule of law, protects us from plutocracy, the rule of the very rich. A big government, elected by the people, protects us from oligarchy, the rule of a small number of interests groups.

A big government, which observes the rule of law, cannot protect us from demagoguery. We are protected from demagoguery only when free citizens denounce simplistic, manipulative, paranoid assertions – like the idea that big government is always and only evil.