Thursday, March 10, 2011
The Role of Government
Some people whose opinions I value greatly took exception to my posting about what’s wrong with liberalism. They raised good questions and made some legitimate criticisms in their comments. There were also some debatable statements made. For example, one person saw a problem with my “reinforcing of a simplistic dichotomy” between conservatives and liberals and presenting the two sides as caricatures.
StudentNewsDaily.com is a non-profit current events website for high school students. Most who read this blog have been out of high school for a long time, but let me share how that website describes a major difference between liberals and conservatives. To me this seems to be a fair and helpful description of opposing positions, one which is simple but not simplistic as well as one which depicts real differences and not just caricatures.
According to their analysis, conservatives “believe in personal responsibility, limited government, free markets, individual liberty, traditional American values and a strong national defense.” They also believe that “the role of government should be to provide people the freedom necessary to pursue their own goals.”
On the other hand, liberals “believe in government action to achieve equal opportunity and equality for all,” and that it is “the duty of the government to alleviate social ills and to protect civil liberties and individual and human rights.” They also believe that “the role of the government should be to guarantee that no one is in need.”
In the political sphere, people have to come down on one side of this divide or the other. It is not really possible to be in the middle—unless that is a rather broad position encompassing various viewpoints, which it can and probably should be.
The conservative position was clearly articulated by President Reagan in his 1981 inaugural address. He declared that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” It seems that Reagan’s statement is now widely supported by the majority of the current members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Yet, the preamble of the U.S. Constitution, as I have previously emphasized, speaks of that document being drafted in order to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, [and] promote the general Welfare.” (The latter phrase refers to the “well-being” of people, not just what is popularly called welfare today.) If, or when, people are in need, discriminated against, exploited, etc., how could government action to correct those ills be a problem—except for those causing such problems?
So while I do believe liberals and conservatives need each other and need to work together for a broad and radiant center, I have to come down on the side that seems to be most concerned for the general welfare of the most people. And while liberals must be careful not to think they can or will be able to solve all social problems, shouldn’t one major role of the government be “to alleviate social ills” to the greatest extent possible?