Grace Ross: Everyone Wants Big Government for Their Cause
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
That type of experience informed our Bill of Rights clause about due process and government not taking what the government doesn’t have a right to in terms of private property.
Surely, some historical sensibility underlies much of the outrage that reaches across the political spectrum about the NSA stepping in and reading our email and listening to our phone calls. They do this without due process, that is, without a potential legal criminal case specifically targeted at one of us. And through our outrage resonates from the same deep roots in a sense that the government doesn’t have a right to intervene in our lives.
Somehow, that legitimate concern has gotten translated into an interesting variety of positions across the political spectrum including a sort of stereotyped response against “big government” and the idea of government “intruding in our lives.” If we’re honest, I think, we all have to admit that almost everybody wants government to be “large” for the causes that you care about.
For instance, at a time when most folks who would consider themselves deficit hawks and probably define themselves as more on the right than on the left are fighting for sequestration and all sorts of automatic cuts across the board even to programs, those folks suddenly argued for vast increases in funding for fences and other guards along the southern border of the United States. As part of the immigration reform (now mostly stalled out) those border protection amendments were fought by most of the immigration communities in the U.S. AND by the two Republican Senators from Texas on whose borders these fences and other “investments” into border control were going to be made. Clearly, if it was purely about bringing home federal money, the Texas Senators would have voted for it; however, as folks who have to live with the consequences of those policies they stepped out of line with their Republican brothers and sisters and opposed vehemently the increase in border control. This means they opposed the significant, tens of billions of dollars, investments that were suddenly added to a budget that was otherwise being slashed in general on some ethic against big government.
Similarly, no complaints have gone out from the anti-big government forces about expanding hugely government investments in military or requiring greater local government expenditures on police suddenly required to function not only as community policing agents but at the behest of INS which is supposed to have its own budget. These increased local policing expenditures work in contradiction to the needs of effective local police work that need to work within their communities that are often diverse including in terms of immigration status.
In an area where we should all agree on our American values of providing a better future for our children, the recent reports on the relative economic immobility in U.S. society are devastating. Comparing the US even to Canada (which has very similar legal and financial structures to us) the U.S. bombs on economic mobility. In other words, the ability of the vast majority of folks to move economically at all–whether it’s the rags to riches story or the concept of the American dream of owning a home–has almost reached a standstill while economic mobility continues to be much more fluid in other countries such as many of the countries in Europe than it is here. Another huge study comparing mobility inside the US shows huge variation with huge swaths of very low mobility but consistent factors seem to make the difference.
The big indicators for whether a country and an area inside the US is likely to promote mobility or not are the quality of public school education, youth health, and amount of community connections–like civic and religious institutions. These have to do with providing everyone an education, a healthy childhood, and a vital community from which to grow and flourish.
Schools, universal access to healthcare and even community services are areas where our government has been consistently cutting back. We have the worst healthcare indicators in the developed world and in fact worse than most underdeveloped nations. Our cutbacks in education have reached the point that some people describe our policies as guaranteeing lack of access to real education especially in many of our public schools often in the neighborhoods where a good educational foundation is most important.
These are cutbacks happening, of course, in the context of literally trillions and trillions of dollars in our government money continuing to go “financial stimulus programs” to support Fannie’s and Freddie’s investments and other bailouts of the private banks around mortgages and foreclosures. To have a real conversation about ensuring the future for all of our children and the economic mobility that forms the basis of our American ethics and mythology, folks need to start seeing that the real decisions are about good government not size of government.
All of which is to say that when our founding fathers and mothers created this government, the limits were not on size, they were put on functions. The limits were on what different levels of government engage in and how much reach our government was supposed to have. And good public schools–especially in Massachusetts–was an early government commitment.
I am praying for the day when folks stop trying to pigeonhole people who speak about the functions of government like me into either big government or small government little cubbies. This pigeonholing destroys the practical conversations about what our government should or shouldn’t be doing and what we can afford or not afford financially for it to do those things.
We need to be able to discuss the fundamental questions of what are our values? Do we want our society to be one of economic mobility where people can make their way based on a decent childhood education, healthcare, and strong communities to put us all on a decent footing to move ahead in our lives or not?
If that’s where we’re going to spend money, at least we can use a measuring stick that’s about benefit to the entire community. One measuring stick I hope we all share is that we are invested in a better future as an economy, a society, and even in terms of our families and neighborhoods.
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