Is Government Too Big or Our Interests Too Narrow?

                The Republicans have hammered at it for over a century now. Libertarians refined and focused the message. The Tea Party at first was against any Big Guys picking on the little guys, but their message was co-opted.

                They all now complain, loudly and in unison, about “government overreach.” So much so that it has become accepted doctrine. Of course the crescendo will reach maximum decibels as we near the 2014 midterm elections, and especially when the Republican cause-above-all-causes of discrediting and debilitating Obama is pursued till the 2016 Presidential election.

                Now there is always plenty of fuel for this argument. Government grows as population grows and society becomes more complex. And “government of the people,” because people are flawed, is always going to let us down, and people in charge are going to always be tempted to extend their grasp of power.

                But a big part of our need for government is to protect us from the flaws and overreach of the powerful. And powerful people do their best to do their worst not only in government but also outside, as in insurrectionists, petty and organized crime, terrorism and corporate greed and corruption.

                It is not big government we need to be fighting, but bad government. The original impulse of the Tea Party was to fight bad government as it has so obviously been distorted and used by big money on Wall Street and in other multi-national corporations that have become “too big to fail.”

                So my thesis is a simple one: Government needs to be good and a powerful player in our world. But what makes government bad and weak is narrow interests–both the narrow interests of those Big Money Players who always try to control government for their own personal gain, and the narrow interests of voting citizens.

                The current crop of Fox News conservatives don’t like government telling us what to do. They make fun of the “nanny state” mentality that they say inspires the creation of regulations meant to make life safer. But what they get most exercised about is taxation and regulation of corporations.

                Yet those same people cry out for the government to get very involved when it comes to their interests: put a stop to abortions, put a stop to illegal immigration, put a stop to flights from Ebola-wracked West Africa.

                And in the case of objections to abortion or birth control, the argument has lately been framed as one of religious freedom; but the freedom being fought for now is the freedom to impose personal religious values on one’s employees, and, in the case of abortion, upon the entire population of a state or nation.

                It has always been the case that, in any society, large or small, the Golden Rule applies: Those with the gold get to make the rules. But what has happened in our free-market glorifying culture is that those with the gold also get to buy much louder speech. And with the Citizens United opinion of the Supreme court this has been enshrined into the law of the land.

                As Will Rogers once said, “A conservative is a man who has plenty of money and don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t always have plenty of money.” And so it stands to reason that the Big Money people of this world, those who are absolutely habituated to having too much of everything, will always want to keep the government from slowing down their cash flow with regulations. What does not stand to reason is that about half of the 99.9% of the citizens of this nation have now been fooled into acting against their real interests. They have been convinced that cutting the guts out of the government is a good idea when it is only a good and powerful government that can stand up to those who would fatten themselves while keeping wages and benefits of workers low and endangering the environment.

                All the while the real interests of all of us is completely interconnected. That’s why Ed Chambers of the Industrial Areas Foundation, an institution that has been dedicated to getting power to the powerless so that they can sit at the table with the Big Money people on somewhat equal terms, claims that what society needs is not more selfless people, but people who act boldly according to “enlightened self-interest.”

                We need voters who will genuinely vote their self-interest. But they also need to broaden and deepen their interests.

                Months ago people were dying by the hundreds of Ebola in West Africa. Our news outlets weren’t interested. Our citizens didn’t hear of it. Our politicians couldn’t afford to be distracted from their perpetual campaigns and their gridlock.

                Today, in the USA, one person has died and two others have bee shown to be effected, and everyone suddenly is in Major Crisis mode–howling for Barak Obama to do something drastic and quick.

                Well, in fact, our self-interests were always at stake. Our world, that has eternally been tightly woven together by a shared humanity, is now also closely woven by commerce and easy transportation. It’s not only Ebola that respects no boundaries, but health, political unrest, a thirst for freedom, and a crying need for justice and fairness as well.

                It is always in our self-interest to give a damn about the health and justice…for all people, even those who are half a world away.

               When it comes to thinking about health care, birth control, religious freedom, a living wage, immigration, security issues or anything else, we should all be passionate in working for and voting–not for smaller government, but a more just and more effective government. We will be able to do that when we move past knee-jerk concerns over what government can do for us, and start thinking hard about what government can do to give all people, everywhere, the chance to thrive. 

About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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