The big toot in the news today (and for the past forty year) has been anti-Big Government. Ronald Reagan swept the electorate on his charge that ‘Government is the problem.’ We have to ask why. Why has our Federal Government grown to such a behemoth? The answer is really quite simple – it is because local government, business leaders, and our Christian Churches have failed to be responsible. Reagan’s mantra was cute – but he failed to grasp the real problem.
The United States Federal Government began flexing it’s muscles in the 1800’s – Railroads needed right-of-way to build efficient national transportation. Eminent Domain was the solution. The Government decided how best to use land – and who had the right to own that land. Laissez Faire was the counter charge – leave us alone – let business flourish as it will. Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican President, would challenge Laissez Faire – Why – because business was abusive.
The meat packing industry figured out how to ‘can’ meat. Little consideration was given to salmonella or botulism or e-coli – but hey, the business leaders said, people don’t have to buy our product. President Roosevelt pulled in the reins and the Food and Drug Administration was gaining strength. Coal miners in West Virginia went on strike. The Mine owners were adamant – they would not negotiate. The strike went on through the summer of 1902 – but as fall and winter approached President Roosevelt called the owners and the union to the White House. He proposed an arbiter to settle the dispute. At that time most of the homes in America were heated with coal. The union officials agreed to arbitration. The mine owners said NO! They would never negotiate with a union. Roosevelt reminded them that there were three parties in the negotiation – The Owners, The Union, and The Customers – American citizens. Roosevelt told the mine owners that he, Roosevelt, represented the people. Roosevelt threatened to use the military to take over the mines and the Government would assure the public there would be coal to heat their homes in the winter.
The 1920’s brought a roaring economy – fueled by Wall Street greed (sound familiar?). The result was the market crash of 1920 and years of a Great Depression. Banks failed across the nation. Another Roosevelt, Franklin, passed banking and financial regulations to prevent another such disruption of the lives of everyday working Americans. In 1936 Social Security was passed – someone needed to take action to protect the life and dignity of the elderly. If the government was not responsible for the elderly – who would be? Seriously folks, who should take care of the elderly? Modern Tea Party activists shout, “Not the Government!” Well, who then? They should take care of themselves, some might say, and this is certainly a noble idea. But the reality is that there are many old people who have not prepared for their elderly years. So, again, who picks up this slack? I would like to nominate the Christian Churches – they are full of nurturing ideals. But the Churches would rather build big sanctuaries for worship rather than help an old maid who was not responsible enough to marry a wealthy man. 1938 saw the Fair Labor Standards Act, which ‘put a ceiling over hours and a floor under wages.’ Why? Because business owners were abusive.
Time passed. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed congress and was signed by President Lyndon Johnson. Why did we need a Civil Rights Act? Because we the people were not being civil. Municipal and State Governments failed to protect all citizens equally. Medicare passed in 1967. Again, why? Because Christian Churches, along with municipal and State governments, again failed to take care of their own.
Over the years the Federal Government has established the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, the Department of Commerce, the Department of the Interior, The Environmental Protection Agency, the list is much longer than most people realize. Why? Why has the government grown to such proportions that we face regulations at every life turn?
President T. R. Roosevelt said it best. Free markets work best when left alone – but, and this is a big but, when people are abused, when people die, when our environment is not safe, then the role of the government is to protect the people. Churches talk about helping the poor. Municipal governments provide public safety in the form of Police and Fire protection. State governments provide safe highways, and protect consumers from unscrupulous business. Many State governments have passed seat belt laws, and laws that require helmets when riding motorcycles. Why? State governments have minimum requirements for education. Why?
Modern protests against big government are misguided. If we the people do not want government intrusion in our lives then we should act responsibly. Local School Districts have failed to educate our children. Local Churches and Hospitals have failed to provide health care for all citizens.
The role of government is defined in the preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, 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.
The Federal government, as originally founded, took little interest in the daily lives of the citizens – preferring to allow local and State governments manage their own civil issues. The problem is that local and State government agencies failed to own their responsibility. Over a period of more than two hundred years the federal government has taken on these responsibilities.
Here it is folks, if you don’t want the federal government sticking their nose into your business – then act responsibly – own up – be civil. We WILL have a CIVIL society – one way or another.