What is government’s role?
The role of government in American society is the latest hot-button issue in the presidential race, thanks to comments made by President Obama during one of his campaign stops.
Critics have zeroed in on part of his remarks where he said, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen …”
That somebody else is the government, according to the president.
Mitt Romney, who is expected to receive the Republican presidential nomination at the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla., Aug. 27-30, jumped into the middle of the fray.
“I’m convinced he (Obama) wants Americans to be ashamed of success,” Romney said at a campaign stop in Irwin, Pa. “To say that Steve Jobs didn’t build Apple, that Henry Ford didn’t build Ford Motors, that Papa John didn’t build Papa John Pizza … to say something like that, it’s not just foolishness. It’s insulting to every entrepreneur, every innovator in America.”
What we have here are two diametrically opposing viewpoints about the role of government. And that should make it easier for voters to determine where they stand come election day Nov. 6.
I went back to a textbook I used in 1959 when teaching civics to high school students and found an answer to government’s role that is as relevant today as it has ever been.
“Both liberty and authority are essential to a democracy, but they must be in proper balance. If one outweighs the other, democracy itself is lost,” the textbook said.
All too often we forget the reasons colonists came to this country in the first place. They wanted religious freedom and the right to decide their own fate. And when British oppression proved too much to bear, they declared their independence and fought for the freedoms they cherished.
Colonists wanted government. They knew it was essential in order to protect their newly won right to be free. However, they wanted a limited government, along with their civil liberties.
President Obama obviously believes more government is the answer to most problems, while Romney represents the opposing view that less government is more productive.
“Look,” Obama told supporters in Roanoke, Va., “if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own. I’m always struck by people who think, ‘Well, it must be because I was just so smart.’ There are a lot of smart people out there. ‘It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.’ Let me tell you something, there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made it happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”
The president has a point there, but he definitely went over the line. Don’t capable, industrious and intelligent individuals who work in government have something to do with the progress he’s talking about? And when people decide to take risks by going into business on their own, don’t they deserve some credit — and financial reward? They certainly have to deal with the consequences when those businesses fail.
Charles Krauthammer, a writer for the Washington Post, in a recent column made the point that government isn’t the most important influence in our lives.
“… It is civil society, those elements of the collectivity that lie outside government: family, neighborhood, church, Rotary Club, PTA, the voluntary associations that Tocqueville understood to be the genius of America and source of its energy and freedom,” Krauthammer said.
Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) is the French philosopher who came to America to study our prison system and sized up our national character rather well.
Government can do some things individuals and companies can’t. In the early years of this nation’s history, only the wealthy planters and merchants could afford to educate their children. Public schools eventually filled that void. Citizens couldn’t build their own roads until they pooled their resources through government agencies. Those who weren’t physically or mentally able to care for themselves needed help to survive.
It’s all there in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution: “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, 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.”
Unfortunately, government can make a mess of things when it overreaches and thinks it has the only answers. Thankfully, the voters in this country have the last word, even though it can be difficult at times for them to keep a rapidly expanding government in check.
This year’s presidential election will give us a clear choice about the path we want to follow for the next four years. Obama will give us more government; Romney wants to curb the growth of government.
You get to decide where we go.
Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 337-494-4025 or [email protected].