Monday, July 05, 2004

The point of government

Commenter K2Aggie07 recently took takes issue with a snarky comment I made over at Boots and Sabers and makes the following argument:

“The whole point of government is not to spend money. The point of our government is to uphold the Constitution for the United States.”

That would seem to be a sensible statement until you consider what it really means to “uphold the Constitution.” How do you “…establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare…” without spending money? What do those things mean anyway?

Provide for the common defense seems simple enough. That means the military and that is a hefty chunk of change in and of itself. But it probably also includes the CIA, the State Department and our network of ambassadors, and our foreign aid programs all meant to provide stability in other parts of the world so that events don’t get out of hand and threaten our interests.

Establish justice… I suppose that would be our courts and criminal justice systems – including police officers, prisons, the FBI, etc.

Ensure domestic tranquility? I suppose that could be the public parks, national monuments, public libraries… How about roads and bridges? Our highway system? Rails, mass transit, sea ports, airports? What about the education system? There sure wouldn’t be a lot of domestic tranquility with a bunch of uneducated kids roaming the streets everyday. What about public utilities – electricity, water, sewer, garbage disposal. Yes, I know that there are lot of private companies out there that can and do provide these essential services, but it still falls upon the government to make sure that those services are made available to everyone.

And then there is promoting the general welfare. What a great catch all that is! Medicare, Social Security, nursing homes, agriculture subsidies, scientific research to cure diseases, USDA meat inspections, protecting the environment and, of course, the scourge of the radical right – welfare itself!!!

And I haven’t even mentioned one of the Republicans’ favorite government programs – the Small Business Administration – which doles out millions in corporate welfare every year. And I’m sure there are dozens more worthy government entities that have their hands outstretched every year at budget time. I haven’t named one single thing that doesn’t cost money.

Do we really need all of these programs? K2 seems to be enamored with life in the U.S. prior to the Great Depression…

“Prior to the great depression the government gave *no* (as in, none, zero) support to the poor. It was left up to private charities and churches. And you know what? People survived. Want to know how? They worked for what they got, and the government didn't tax 50% of their income. In fact, if you get into the economics of it, by pre-great depression standards (or any standards for that matter) the only reason Americans aren't filthy rich is because fully half of our income goes to support an over-stuffed fat beaurocratic leeching self-righteous government.”

Ah yes, I remember when I used to think that life was so simple. Everything was wonderful back in the good old days before big, bad bureaucrats screwed everything up. Liberals bad, conservatives good, blah, blah, blah. But then I graduated from college and moved out into the big, complex, real world.

Prior to the Great Depression, America was not the world power that it is today. In fact, it was questionable whether or not the country was going to make it at all. We had managed to pull ourselves together after a bloody Civil War, but the Great Depression nearly brought an end to capitalism as we know it. It was Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal that saved capitalism. Conservatives should honor his name rather than bitch continuously about his accomplishments.

We won World War II because the government spent money by the bucket loads and taxed the beejeezus out of folks to pay for it. But it was worth it. When everything was said and done we were the strongest and most powerful country in the world. And we still are, for the most part, in spite of Bush’s best efforts to weaken us with his ill conceived tax cuts which have wiped out our surpluses and left us with record deficits while shipping our troops out on this WMD snipe hunt without enough support and equipment.

Then there were the social programs like Social Security and welfare and Medicare that have freed people from having to spend all their time and efforts caring for elderly and sick relatives. With that burden lifted people suddenly found their standard of living dramatically improved. They were able to spend their time and money pursuing other things that helped to grow the economy.

Capitalism works and America is a great country today because of these programs. That is what the radical right fails to understand or refuses to see. And since the radical right has taken control of the Republican Party today, it is left to the Democrats to uphold the standards of good government that have kept our nation strong all these years. That is why, as I noted in my previous post, real conservatives should appreciate the things Bill Clinton accomplished, especially in light of the miserable failure that George W. Bush has been. Clinton reduced the size of government, decreased government spending and balanced the federal budget. Bush has increased spending, grown the size of government and left us with a record budget deficit, all while presiding over a pitiful economic performance to become the first president since Herbert Hoover to lose more jobs than were gained during his tenure.

In conclusion, I would just say that I much prefer living in a country like the U.S. that provides all of these government services and programs as opposed to any other country in the world, and I suspect even K-2Aggie would have to agree with that.

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