I realize that I am a bit late on this, but I needed time to organize my thoughts on this. I am happy that Word Press is entering the political debate and look forward to civilized discussion a la “Mind the Gap” as it is called, on this and other issues.
Using the “long form” of writing, which is unusual and in fact, according to some, taboo in a blog format (if we want people to read it), I offer the following response to the question, What is the role of government? I sincerely hope that fellow bloggers and others out there on the web, will take the time to read this, and other WordPress bloggers’ views on the subject.
The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution outlines the role that the founders thought government should play in the lives of its citizens:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The Constitution sets up the structure and powers of the government, the relationship between federal and state government, and establishes the rights of the people. It does not, however, indicate the specific role that government should play in our lives. It is the Preamble, as an introduction and the “why” of the Constitution, that tells what the role of government should be, as envisioned by the writers of that document:
Form a more perfect Union – the previous Articles of Confederation established a weak central government, a system that was fraught with problems. A “more perfect Union” indicates that states and regions work together under a common system of government and laws.
Establish Justice – It is the government’s role to see that justice is served, that people are treated fairly and their rights protected through the courts system. It leaves open what “justice” really means; our sense of justice and fairness has changed over time as more groups of people have come to be included in the protection of rights: blacks and other minorities, women, etc.
Provide for the common defence – the government has the responsibility to protect its citizens against outside forces, such as in the case of war or invasion. The people have the right to depend on the government, on our armed forces, police and firefighters, to come to our aid and protect us from harm. On 9/11 it was government workers – the N.Y. city government, firefighters from all over the country, police, and other first responders – that came to rescue and assist those who had been stranded, survivors, and families of the victims. Repercussions of that tragedy continue to this day, and it continues to be the government that has the responsibility to deal with the problems that originated on that day.
Promote the general Welfare – this is a clause which I often think has been forgotten in the debate about what government should and should not do. This involves the economy – providing employment, providing a business climate to promote employment, and to offer services to those who, for whatever reason, do not have employment. The government should be involved in regulating the economy, including breaking up monopolies, imposing regulations on industries to protect the environment (our common welfare includes the air we breathe and the planet we live on), bringing to justice those who violate business and finance laws, which cause citizens to be cheated or to pay taxes to protect the status quo: the class of wealthy Wall Street bankers and corporate CEOs that are supposedly “vital” to the stability of our economy.
Promoting the general welfare also means that government should step in to protect the rights of people when these are being infringed, perhaps by an interpretation of other rights. In this case, I am thinking of the first and second amendments to the Constitution. In the Declaration of Independence it declares a “self-evident” truth that all men are created equal and that everyone has the right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Therefore, the government should seek to protect people’s lives and liberty when these are threatened by a dangerous domestic situation, such as abuse by family members, or against unreasonable interpretations of another right, including the right to bear arms. Another’s rights end at the tip of my nose: you can swing your arms but you don’t have the right to hit me. Your right to own a gun does not mean you have the right to kill somebody with it, unless it is a clear case of self-defense. The right to own a cache of weapons does not give you or your family members the right to take those weapons and use them to kill innocents.
The government should be allowed to make laws which impose limits on the right to bear arms (such as a ban on military style weapons that have no place in the hands of non-military personnel in a situation of war), in order to promote the welfare of other citizens who cannot or do not have the opportunity to defend themselves, such as children in school, people watching a movie, or people worshipping in their church or temple.
The government has the right to limit religious rights when these impose on the religious rights or liberties of others; for example, health care by definition in the 21st century includes a woman’s right and need to control reproduction. If she works for a Catholic organization, she should not have the right to health care which includes birth control taken away when other women have health care plans that include birth control. This is a form of discrimination which is imposed by the beliefs of a religious organization, even though that religious organization employs many people who do not share their beliefs and have the right not to share them, and therefore the same rights should be accorded to their employees as are offered to everyone else.
The separation of church and state must be maintained, regardless of one group’s moral and religious feelings, or another’s lack thereof. This requires that everyone be tolerant of others who do not share their beliefs and realize that, even though we have different religious interpretations, we can unite under a common system of core values, mainly those stated in these documents which envisioned a society that would be subject to change over time. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are core values which have not changed, but interpretation of limits on them have.
It is my belief that the federal government needs to play an important role in not only upholding laws, but also regulating those forces which affect the common welfare and the exercise of our rights. This of course means something very different than it did to the founders. All men are created equal to them meant, literally, men – propertied (white) men. Amendments to the Constitution have expanded the concepts of equality and justice to include former slaves, ethnic minorities, women, and children, and we are now in the midst of another civil rights struggle: the right of gay people to marry and enjoy all the benefits of marital status.
The government should provide basic common services: infrastructure safety, police protection, firefighting equipment and personnel, health care, and education. The federal government should be able to establish a health care system that is equal and fair to all, no matter who you are and where you live.
Education norms and standards should also be nationalized, so that graduates of high schools and universities can be depended upon to have received an equal education. Governments must therefore dictate certain aspects of the curriculum, in order for students to be able to be on a par and compete with their peers around the world. An example of this would be that all states must make evolution a crucial part of the science curriculum, while “creationism” should be relegated to religion classes.
Where should government not be involved? Due to the diversity of our society, encompassing a wide variety of beliefs, lifestyles and traditions, all of which are protected as rights under the Constitution, I believe that individuals should decide how to live their lives, control their bodies, and form relationships that are beneficial to them. People should have the right to live as they wish as long as they don’t break any laws or trample on the rights of others. Therefore, personal and social concerns such as reproduction, birth control, marriage, family structure and free expression of beliefs, ideas, and spirituality, are not within the jurisdiction of the government to impose on everyone one way of thinking or a particular lifestyle choice.
If the government – federal, state, or local – does not do its job to protect our rights, it is the job and duty of the people to change, or even abolish, that government: paragraph 2 of the Declaration of Independence goes on to state:
…whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce [the people] under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. …
The Declaration of Independence was the birth certificate of our nation; it is our raison d’etre. Although it declares that the people can and should overthrow a tyrannical government, it also implies that some form of government is necessary. I do not believe that as human beings in a complex, modern society such as ours, we are able to govern ourselves without a central structure or leaders. Human societies naturally create and gravitate toward leaders.
Anarchy is often equated with chaos for good reason. Minimalism in government is an impossibility today – we are too interdependent, not only on each other as individuals, states, and regions, but also globally. Those who want to shrink the government to a bare minimum are kidding themselves – and you.