Speak of the devil. Obama’s weekly radio address went right to the core of the what-is-government’s-role-in-the-new-century discussion we had on Thursday. An excerpt:
“…American democracy has thrived because we have recognized the need for a government that, while limited, can still help us adapt to a changing world…. The democracy designed by Jefferson and the other founders was never intended to solve every problem with a new law or a new program. Having thrown off the tyranny of the British Empire, the first Americans were understandably skeptical of government. Ever since, we have held fast to the belief that government doesn’t have all the answers, and we have cherished and fiercely defended our individual freedom. That is a strand of our nation’s DNA.
“But the other strand is the belief that there are some things we can only do together, as one nation — and that our government must keep pace with the times. When America expanded from a few colonies to an entire continent, and we needed a way to reach the Pacific, our government helped build the railroads. When we transitioned from an economy based on farms to one based in factories, and workers needed new skills and training, our nation set up a system of public high schools. When the markets crashed during the Depression and people lost their life savings, our government put in place a set of rules and safeguards to make sure that such a crisis never happened again. And because our markets and financial system have evolved since then, we’re now putting in place new rules and safeguards to protect the American people.
“This notion hasn’t always been partisan. It was the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, who said that the role of government is to do for the people what they cannot do better for themselves. He would go on to begin that first intercontinental railroad and set up the first land-grant colleges. It was another Republican, Teddy Roosevelt, who said that ‘the object of government is the welfare of the people.’ He is remembered for using the power of government to break up monopolies, and establishing our National Park system. Democrat Lyndon Johnson announced the Great Society during a commencement here at Michigan, but it was the Republican president before him, Dwight Eisenhower, who launched the massive government undertaking known as the Interstate Highway System.”
“But what troubles me is when I hear people say that all of government is inherently bad. One of my favorite signs from the health care debate was one that read ‘Keep Government Out Of My Medicare,’ which is essentially like saying ‘Keep Government Out Of My Government-Run Health Care.’ For when our government is spoken of as some menacing, threatening foreign entity, it conveniently ignores the fact in our democracy, government is us. We, the people, hold in our hands the power to choose our leaders, change our laws, and shape our own destiny.”
Another great point: Our opinion of government is greatly distorted by the fact that its failures get a lot more attention than its successes. We’ll remember Katrina for decades, but not the competent, quiet responses to, say, other disasters like the Asian tsunami, or other U.S. hurricanes, tornadoes, etc. Remember the giant economic depression the savings and loan crisis caused in 1986? That’s because there wasn’t one. The government worked out a brilliant scheme to transfer failed S&Ls’ assets to a temporary Resolution Trust Corporation, which sold them off in an iorderly way and averted a bigger crisis.