Civilized people cannot remain civilized without government. This is a fact of history.
Federal, state and local government is essential to the security and liberty of people. Yet there has always been widespread disagreement over how much government is needed and what it should do.
Many in the U.S. view government as a growing threat to personal liberty. Many also no longer believe that it’s possible for government to reform — at least on the federal level.
It’s not hard to understand this overwhelming feeling that federal government is beyond repair. Perhaps it has become too big and too complicated to reform. More likely government is difficult to change because it has become a complex synergy of bitter partisanship, corruption and reckless spending (built on a system of lies, denial and blame shifting).
All of this has produced a powerful dysfunctional family of Washington bureaucrats who are far too preoccupied with re-election to be able serve the long-term good of the people.
I am not accusing all politicians of corruption, but the American people apparently believe most politicians are corrupt. Many are deeply cynical about the possibility of separating corruption from politics.
But since government is essential to civilized people, we must not allow cynicism to cause us to give up on it. There are no simple answers to renewing faith in the possibility of an honorable and competent government. We need a widespread restoration of Lincoln’s philosophy of government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
Is it too idealistic to think that we can establish government without polarizing a nation around winners and losers? The answer depends on how we view the role of government. We must free ourselves from misguided expectations of government as an entity to meet our every need. Citizens must regain a grammar of responsibility and a large dose of self-respect that refuses to look to a nanny state to be our caretaker.
Of course, dislodging the prevailing entitlement mentality will remain a daunting challenge as long as we have a government that over taxes its citizens and recklessly spends their money for self-serving purposes. But how does such a government come to power? Instead of joining with corrupt politicians by clamoring for a bigger piece of the tax pie, let’s vote for leaders who will encourage individual responsibility by both their examples and their policies.
Let’s ask them to simplify and prioritize the role of government around essential concerns of the majority of citizens. Let’s demand that government behave like a responsible family by functioning within their means — without unnecessary tax increases or borrowing.
Americans have always been known for being able to rise to whatever challenges they face. This spirit must inspire us to work for the reform of government that we so badly need. Although we face daunting challenges, at least the U.S., unlike Europe, only has two primary parties to reform and reconcile. But we don’t have to wait for the federal government to change.
We have some excellent examples of reform on state and local levels. Change can also happen through business owners who refuse to build their companies on the backs of their employees. Change is possible, but it will only happen when our families, communities, schools and churches take the lead role in restoring a grammar of responsibility based on core values of simplicity and generosity that have distinguished this nation.
This is not a time for pessimism. Like so many before us who sacrificed for a better nation, let us embrace the kind of brave optimism that fueled their dedication.
Steven W. Cornell