In the simplest terms, our country was founded on an idea that every person has a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This was derived from John Locke’s similar belief in “life, liberty, and property.” It is the government’s duty to protect these rights. Police protect our lives and property domestically, and the armed forces protect us from foreign threats. But the government is so much more that just police and military. Forming and living in societies has allowed us to move away from hunting and gathering and subsistence agriculture. By division of labor, we’re able to specialize in a trade, send our young to schools, and have more leisure time. Currency developed to make transactions simpler (What you don’t want my chickens?) Government has grown to regulate agriculture, balance the rights of laborers and corporations, preserve our natural resources, monitor food and drug safety, provide a social safety net, and on and on.
Today, among recession, unemployment, skyrocketing health care and education costs, multiple foreign wars, growing support for LGBT equality, and many other issues, we’ve seen the rise of the Tea Party. Now, I used to be an objectivist/Libertarian. I thought “The Fountainhead” and “Atlas Shrugged” were brilliant. But those books showcase an unrealistic utopia. No one had a sub par education because they were born in the wrong neighborhood, there wasn’t a stay at home mom left with nothing when her husband decided to abandon his family, mental illness didn’t exist. The Tea Party wants to cut government spending so they can have lower taxes. Too bad for you if you don’t have insurance or want to marry your same-sex partner. The Tea Party supports a strict adherance to the Constitution, nevermind that the preamble specifically says to “promote the general Welfare.” Our country wasn’t founded to create millionaires or laud people who were lucky enough to be born into healthy, wealthy, intelligent families. America is for everyone.
If you’ve ever played a sport or were part of any type of team, you’ve probably heard the saying that a group is “only as strong as the weakest link.” If our country is a team, the homeless, unemployed, ill, etc are our weakest links. We cannot progress as a whole and leave these less fortunate behind. Our country supports public education because an educated populace is important for a functioning democracy, our economy needs trained workers, and academically engaged children are less likely to become teen parents or criminals. I think this rationale extends to other government-run social welfare programs. We cannot expect people to be good citizens when their basic needs such as housing, food, and health care are not met. Of course we must find a balance in these programs to make sure we are teaching men to fish, not just handing out fish. And yes, there are charities that care for these needs but they’re not in every community and not everyone is welcome (for example, some shelters turn away gay or transgender people).
I hate myself for saying this, but I do agree with the Tea Party on one of their points. We should be auditing government for waste. Are consultants overpaid? Do politicians need the lavish offices and expense accounts they have? Are we sending Social Security checks to dead people?
For me it comes down to this fundamental question: Can government achieve what liberals and progressives want for a price that conservatives can accept?