Hardcore free-market Republicans often rail against “big government,” so let’s take a few minutes to figure out what the role of government should be in the United States.
What do we want from the federal government? What do we, as citizens, expect our government to be? What services do we want it to provide on our behalf?
The first thing about government is that we all want it to work for us, not against us. We do not want to be taxed excessively and we do not want to be spied upon like “big brother.” We want our elected officials to serve us honorably and we want our justice system to be fair and equal. I would venture to guess that few Americans would argue with these general points, no matter what their political beliefs.
Now, forget government for a minute. What do American citizens want America to be? Do we want the best health care and education in the world? Do we want retired citizens to have a guaranteed income? Do we want the strongest military in the world? Do we want clean energy? Do we want to do our part to end global warming? Do we want strong bridges? Do we want clean drinking water systems and good sewer systems? Do we want clean air to breathe? Do we want corporations to be able to do whatever they want without accountability or do we want them strictly regulated? Do we want corporations to have the same constitutional rights as individuals? Do we want a safe interstate system without potholes and other hazards? Do we want high-speed rail? Do we want safe food? Do we want equal rights for all, including the right to same-sex marriage? Do we want a minimum wage? Do we want a living wage? Do we want an unregulated mass media, with as few as five conglomerates controlling more than 50 percent of the news we get? Do we want more licenses for low-power radio and television stations? Do we want to permit torture techniques to be used on foreign prisoners? Do we want affordable housing? Do we want to ensure that the unemployed have an income until they find work? Do we want to bailout failing banks and large corporations?
Obviously, this list could go on and on and on, but for our purposes, we will end it here. These questions, when used to decide what role government should play, are where people part ways as Americans and become political opponents. There are those who look at a budget and scream “Pork!” when they see proposals for more unemployment insurance, a raise in the minimum wage, money to repair bridges on secondary highways, housing for the poor, more schools, local water projects, repair of inner city sewer systems, and so forth. Some people believe that the federal government should not be spending money for such things, yet they invariably support unlimited spending for war and preparations for war.
The problem with spending in general is, if we want something, someone has to pay for it. No one these days wants to take responsibility for increasing taxes, so the burden is passed on from the federal government to individual states, counties, cities, towns and villages. Revenue is created by increasing various kinds of taxes -- like fuel taxes, hotel taxes, income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, estate taxes, “sin” taxes, and so forth. People who call for no tax increases and limited federal government mean that they do not want to say they support taxes at the federal level. They are not putting the needs of America first, but are playing party politics. They are trying to win House and Senate seats by claiming that they support limited government and no tax increases, but these shady politicians know full well that there will be new taxes at the state and/or the municipal level. Otherwise, the United States would fall apart at the seams. Oh wait, it already is!
It is largely the Republicans who want to be known as the party that believes in limited federal spending and the Democrats who believe the federal government has a responsibility to spend money for things that most Americans want and need. Republicans want to give tax breaks to the rich and super-rich and Democrats want this exclusive group to pay more federal taxes, largely by plugging the loopholes that allow the rich to maintain overseas addresses in order to escape the responsibility of paying federal taxes at all.
The thing that all Americans who have been hoodwinked into narrow thinking by blowhards like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly need to be aware of is that taxation is a responsibility of civil society. If we want Social Security to be viable -- and it still is viable right now -- then we need to pay into the system and perhaps even increase the amount of federal withholding for Social Security. Those who call for privatization -- letting people choose to invest in the stock market instead of Social Security -- would ruin one of the best federal programs ever created. The needs of the majority of Americans outweigh the needs of a few rich bankers who would get even richer from privatization. At some point we have to say “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” And we say NO to privatization just as we would say NO to bank bailouts.
That said, we also must be responsible in the way our taxes are used. No question about it. We have to prioritize and plan. We have to save for projects that may not even be completed in our lifetime. For example, America’s infrastructure is old and in need of an upgrade. Many inner city and rural water and sewer systems, subways, bridges, roadways, housing projects, and railroads need replaced as soon as possible. These are long-term projects that may take 50 years or more to complete! Obviously, completing them is in the best interest of every single American, but are a nightmare for selfish politicians who want votes now and do not want to plan for the future or allocate funds for projects that may not be completed while the politician is still alive. America is slowly crumbling away and will continue to do so until citizens find the spine to think collectively and put all politicians on notice that the real needs of America and Americans must come first.
Now, I ask again, what do we want from our federal government? What do we want government to provide on our behalf? Does anyone not see how important the federal government is in our lives? We joke about it all the time -- taxes to study the mating habits of the South American swamp rat, for example -- but it all comes back to needs and priorities. No one wants to pay taxes for useless things and the working class are already taxed to the maximum, so the corporate rich and super-rich need to pay a greater share for the greater overall benefit of society. It is not the size of the federal government that matters, even if the federal government becomes the top employer in the nation and provides new public works jobs to tens of millions. What matters is that OUR federal government serve WE THE PEOPLE. That OUR federal government meets OUR needs -- not the short-term, selfish needs of politicians, political parties, war profiteers, and unscrupulous media commentators.