Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Why Government?

The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help.

So said President Reagan.

Most of todays "conservatives" date themselves from the Reagan era of the 1980's. I regularly get e-mails from conservative groups, and that is a constant theme. They don't hearken back to Goldwater, or anything older. It's Ronald Reagan. In fact, on the national talk show hosted by Thom Hartman, he has a regular guest on Fridays in the person of Congressman Bernie Sanders, and this very issue came up. I believe that the reason todays cons date themselves the way they do rests on the emergence of the thinking of Leo Strauss. And Strauss wasn't about small government, or that "which governs least governs best." Strauss believed in elitist government and Machiavellian tactics and beliefs to accomplish it.

And on the basis of Reagan's words, I'd say that our 39th President didn't have a very good grasp on what the founding documents of this country had to say on the matter of government.

We live in a day and age when rights is a big words.Part of this goes back to the very beginning of this country, back to the heady days when the citizens who had been born on this continent were tired of being abused by the monarch of Britain. Many of these people had been born here, not in England. Out of that environment of abuse and the resultant longsuffering came the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War, and the US Constitiution.

In the Declaration of Independence we see the very first mention of the word and what the founders of this country thought about them: "...that all men...are endowed...with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness...."

According to these founders, these things are self-evident. More to the point, "That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men."

I could ramble on about how under Reaganesque conservatism, now called neo-conservatism, that despite their belicose rhetoric about smaller government, they always manage to make it bigger. I could produce numbers that they spend far more relative to the GDP than the Democrats do. Or I could go on about how the cons rule instead of govern. But that isn't the point. The point is that they miss the point of what it means to govern, what we Americans should and do expect from our government, and why we want one to begin with.

To secure these self-evident truths, we institute governments among ourselves. That's a fairly frank admission in the founders belief in the fellow man as well as themselves. We need government to make sure that our inalienable rights are kept intact. That also explains what the mission of public servants is: to work for the maintenance of the citizens' inalienable rights. In the context of the document form which this statement is taken, it is obvious now that the monarchy of Britain was not doing this, despite the belief of the founders that it is the purpose of governments to do so.

Jump foward eleven years. In between the Declaration and the Constitution, a war was fought to secure the beliefs laid out in the Declaration of Independence. And after eleven years and a long war, we read these words:

"We the People of the United States., in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, 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."

Building on the earlier belief that government was necessary to secure self-evident rights, it was now laid out in law what the government's function was to be in a Constitutional Republic. Notice that list: Domestic tranquility, general welfare, justice, and the blessings of liberty. Our government is supposed to insure domestic tranquilty, provide for the common defense, establish justice, and secure the liberty.

When it comes to domestic tranquility, think New Orleans. To insure means to guarantee against loss or harm. New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is a perfect example of failing to insure domestic tranquility, but a perfect example of what it could have meant to do so.

To establish means to bring into existence on a firm or stable basis. Our governmnent is supposed to establish justice, and there are sections of the Constitution devoted to that subject. Again we have an example of the current administration doing the opposite with the pressure for legislation to treat prisoners in ways that the Constitution prohibits. Amendments 5, 6, and 8 all have direct bearings on the current issues surrounding terrorism and the incident of 9.11. Is it possible that the attempts by the Right Wingers to discredit and destroy the judiciary are actually eroding justice?

Providing for the common defence is the one condition which the federal government is to provide. Note though that it says the common defence, not the common pre-emptive action. Also note: it says "We the people to...provide for a common defence...." It does not say, that "Those people will provide the common defense." Given the sate of todays military, I think it is time for reform that puts people of every economic class in uniform, with the goal in mind that we want to minimize the need for armed forces.

Promoting the general welfare. To promote means to help or encourage to exist or flourish. It doesn't say provide, but to help along. Preventing the monoplies from exisiting and dominating the market place, creating policies that encourage innovation and manufacturing. But welfare means basic well being, health, happiness, and prosperity, which means that the medical fields as well as the business market need to be regulated and monitored to protect the consumers from scams and greed. In essence, this means making sure that the majority of the population have the opportunities to be a well educated, fully employed, functional group. It also means that the rights of all citizens are protected on the basis that all mankind is equal, and have the same inalienable rights.

Perhaps it is the sum of these things that means securing the blessings of liberty. I see the major difference between being free and having liberty as this: Liberty is the absence of external control imposed by others. Freedom is the power to determine action, or choose. One can have liberty and not freedom, or freedom and not liberty. In the former you are still a slave, in the latter a rebel. And it is the governments job to secure the blessings of liberty to it's populace. I rather like that viewpoint.

None of these things are partisan. Any political party can either endorse these truths, or work against them. I believe there is a history that would indicate a trend since Reagan took office, but suffice it to say that what we Americans need to embrace as citizens, is that the underlying truth to our ability to function in the ideals set down for us is the reality of "We the people." Not we the Democrats, or Republicans, or Christians, or any other brand. That is what seperates us from making these things happen.

So it is our repsonsibility to see that the political arena centers around debate of the issues, and particularly debate around legislation. We need to press for a law that makes bills singular, with no added amendments for an entirely different issue. For example, no bundling the minimum wage onto an estate tax bill. Or bridges to nowhere on military budget bills. And no bill can be considered for action until every member has recorded that they have recevied it, and an added 72 hours after that. The bill must be on the web at for a week before a final vote. That's one step.

Another step is in the campaigns. Smearing or alluding qualifies as instant disqulification from the race. An opponents voting record can be mentioned, but only with the number of the bill that was voted on, and the Daily Roll register number as well. The glitch here is evident in the first step. If you voted against the estate tax reduction, you voted against the minimum wage, which then becomes a misleading statement by an opponent. So when those kinds of campaign statements are heard, remember to find out exactly what the bill contained. Campaigns are to be centered on issues, and a detailed analysis of why it is an issue, how you are going to fix that issue and at what cost to whom.

It is time that we actually begin to make the American experiment work. It is time to make "We the people" a functional reality. It is time to prove that Ronald Reagan's statement was wrong, because we are the government. It is time to secure our rights, our inalienable rights toLife, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

It is our time.