PRESIDENTIAL PROS AND CONS: THE PURPOSE OF GOVERNMENT

Caption: The committee chosen to draft a declaration of independence for the 13 North American British colonies is shown at work in this 19th century engraving. The five members are, from left, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Philip Livingston and Roger Sherman. On July 1, 1776, the committee submitted their draft to the Continental Congress, which voted on July 2 for final separation, and approved and formally adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4. (© AP Images)
Caption: The committee chosen to draft a declaration of independence for the 13 North American British colonies is shown at work in this 19th century engraving. The five members are, from left, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Philip Livingston and Roger Sherman. On July 1, 1776, the committee submitted their draft to the Continental Congress, which voted on July 2 for final separation, and approved and formally adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4. (© AP Images)

We actually have as part of our heritage a document that clearly states the purpose of government, the Declaration of Independence.  Here are the key words.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

Unfortunately, when we take the passage above out of context, we forget why men came from all over the 13 original colonies to draft and sign the Declaration of Independence. We forget that at the risk of their lives and their fortunes they were preparing to battle to strongest military power of their age. We forget they were about to embark upon a long and miserable war, and we forget why. Instead of protecting his subjects, the government of King George III just saw the wealth of the colonies and wanted to exploit it. Hence the colonists responded forcefully: “no taxation without representation”.

Do most of us (Americans) still believe that God gives us our rights, or do we believe that government gives us our rights? Given how our government spends our money, it does not seem likely. Most of the Federal budget goes to cover “pension” expenses like Social Security and “health” expenses like Medicare (see here). Since everyone likes being taken care of for “free”, there is a huge constituency such “entitlements”.

Because nothing is free, our national debt is out of control (see here).  Yet, ironically, many of the same people who want the free “entitlements” blame the deficit on defense spending, something the Constitution actually authorizes Congress to do. Those foolish people are wrong. Defense is only 21 percent of the Federal budget (see here again).

So what is the problem? Few of us spend much time studying what the Framers of our Constitution studied.  Few of us bother to read what they wrote.

Consider this webpage, The Purposes of Government. That webpage never mentions the Declaration of Independence. Instead, the author focuses upon the evolution of government. Then he describes our present state.

In more recent years, government responsibilities have extended to the economy and public service. An early principle of capitalism dictates that markets should be free from government control. But when economies spun out of control during the 1930s, and countries sank into great depressions, governments acted. The United States Congress created the Federal Reserve System in the early twentieth century to ward off inflation and monitor the value of the dollar. Franklin Roosevelt and his “Brain Trust” devised New Deal programs to shock the country into prosperity. (from here)

The economies just spun out of control?  Don’t economies spin out of control when people are encouraged to borrow recklessly, nations put up trade barriers, and government taxing and spending saps the strength of the economy? That is the fault of capitalism spun out of control?

Similarly, http://www.cliffsnotes.com provide a lame answer, What is the purpose of government, and how does a bill become law?

When you try to figure out the purpose of government, you can easily get bogged down in all of the many things a government does or should do — from defending the people to managing the federal budget. And if you ask a dozen people what the purpose of government is, you’d probably get a dozen different answers, depending on individual point of view.

That’s because everyone — and I mean everyone — has a different view of what a government should and shouldn’t do. Some think the government should control everything, while others think government should have a limited role in people’s lives. Some think that the government should be run by one person, as in a dictatorship, while others think the people should have the right to elect their representatives and leaders, as in a democracy. In fact, the purpose of government has been at the root of philosophical and political debates for many hundreds of years. Just think of any presidential debate you’ve seen: If you boil down what the candidates say, you basically end up with their views on the purpose of government. And, of course, their views usually differ quite a bit! (continued here)

What about the perspective of a journalist of renown?

Call me old-fashioned, but I still hold with the ancient Greeks who said government has only one purpose, to improve the lives of citizens. If it doesn’t, there is no reason for it, no reason at all, which is why I was a little surprised that with the nation at war, our intelligence services in a complete mess, as we just heard, the deficit soaring and jobs going overseas, the Senate decided the most important thing it needed to do was debate a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The House will soon follow.  (from here)

Bob Schieffer provided that back in 2004. That was back when the mass media had just begun to work up to a full-throated roar for “same-sex marriage”.

Still, we began as a nation with an answer. We knew the purpose of government. At least, we once did. So with some effort we can still find websites that speak to that purpose.

So what about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?  What I suggest is clicking on the links in their names and visiting their websites. Then read the quote below.

But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. — James Madison from The Federalist No. 51

Which candidate do you think would most concern James Madison? Which candidate is more concerned with the acquisition of power? Which candidate is most interested in protecting our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Which candidate causes you to fear more for the sake of your children?

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30 thoughts on “PRESIDENTIAL PROS AND CONS: THE PURPOSE OF GOVERNMENT

  1. @Tony

    Thank you for the link to MLK’s speech.

    I have will have to take the time to read it.

    In it Dr. King proclaims that the governmental institutions of our democracy could be transformed by Christians united in the power of love to overcome the injustices of legal segregation and to channel the misuse of capitalism away from massively unequal wealth distribution.

    I have yet to read the MLK’s speech. So what he said in that speech I don’t know. Nonetheless, I already find it ironic that you scream foul constantly, and you justify your protestations by angrily protesting that I am trying impose my religion on others.

    I don’t have big dreams for what we can do with government. The best I think government can do is to stop us from abusing each other. Given how often government has been used by one group of people to enslave another group, that still is a revolutionary idea.

    Christianity says we each belong to God. We are brothers and sisters. He is our Father. So I have not got and you have got the right to make brothers and sisters act as they believe something they don’t. All we can rightfully do with the government is strive for relatively simple ideas about justice.

    There is also a very practical problem. Once we make the government too big and powerful we lack the capacity to control it. Why? Doesn’t Christianity teach we are all sinners? When we lack the capacity for self-control, what makes us think we can control a big, huge, powerful government? Charity?

    Charity — love — is something we give as individuals. Within any institution, we will find individuals who love God and their neighbors, but government agencies, private corporations, labor unions, non-profits, and so forth are simply mechanisms. Any large organization is more machine like than human. That is why the worst atrocities are seemingly premeditated acts committed by governments.

    When the Nazis and the Communists murdered people by the millions, who had control of the government? The People? The elites? Madmen? One man? Is it possible the machinery of a mad dream had run amuck, relentlessly carrying the organization goals that lead to its creation?

    When you study an organization as big and complex as our national government, do you really understand how it works? I don’t. Do you think such an organization can be trusted? I don’t. All I can say is that we are better off putting our faith in God than we are in putting our faith in man.

    Hence, I believe in a limited government, and I trust God will help those who believe in Him to pursue Godly dreams.

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    1. I have been reading “Strength to Love” which contains several of Dr. King’s amazing writings. My wife and I have taken to reading some of these writings aloud. I highly recommend the book to you.

      Senator John Danforth once wrote:

      “The problem is not that Christians are conservative or liberal, but that some are so confident that their position is God’s position that they become dismissive and intolerant toward others and divisive forces in our national life.”

      I share many of your concerns about the size and power of government. I also agree that perhaps the most important role of government is to protect rights, although I fear we may never agree on a comprehensive list of those legal rights, much less on which are God given. I also think that government has a necessary role to play in positively regulating equality of economic opportunity. Although I claim no God given absolutes in this regard, my Christian faith really does inform this belief.

      What concerns me is not that Christians may adamantly disagree in this regard, but that one side claims that their beliefs are divinely immutable and then questions the intentions of well meaning Christians the other side as somehow evil or not Christian. (Dr. King also says as much in the article that I linked above). Tom, I think you are wrong in many of your political and religious beliefs, but I have never thought that you were lying to me or that your intentions were anything less than honorable.

      As I write this, Donald Trump has just been proclaimed President Elect. You and your sophisticated philosophies on religion and government didn’t elect him. A whole lot of angry middle class Americans elected Mr. Trump because they expect him to use government to change the slip of their lives away from the American dream of opportunity that their fathers and grandfathers bequeathed to them and that has eroded because of globalization and the deindustrialization of the American labor force. Rightly or wrongly, to the voters who actually elected Trump, the Democrats and Hillary Clinton looked more like part of the system that is failing them. They will want President Trump to use the power of government to make their lives better again, not take government apart and dismantle all the remaining social safety nets that are holding their lives together. This is not a Republican validation on limited government so much as it is Brexit in the U.S.

      I congratulate you in that your candidate won, but be careful what you wish for. I think you are in for some big surprises as Donald Trump and your “Radical Party of No” try to actually figure out how to govern rather than just being a roadblock to government. Make sure your seat belt is fastened; we are in for a wild ride. 😬

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      1. @Tony

        As I write this, Donald Trump has just been proclaimed President Elect. You and your sophisticated philosophies on religion and government didn’t elect him.

        I cannot even figure out why you think it was necessary to say that.

        I voted for Trump because I think he is somewhat more likely to leave my family, my friends, my neighbors, and my countrymen in peace to run our own lives. I hope he will focus on protecting our God-given rights and our national security, but I don’t expect it. Donald Trump is not Ted Cruz.

        With rabid enthusiasm Obama has worked to transform our country, and Clinton promised more of the same. Since he actually ask for my vote and took positions I advocate, I voted for Donald Trump.

        You want to know why the election was even close? Look at California, the state that once elected Ronald Reagan. Our government has allowed uncontrolled immigration to transform the electorate. People once came to America for freedom, for the adventure of the opportunity of pursuing a dream. Such people, regardless of race or even religion, can make good citizens. Even so, many such immigrants, unable to adapt to America’s culture, use to go back where they came from. Now too many immigrants come here because everything is “free”, and that’s what they vote for.

        Hence California has become a welfare Mecca, and the same thing is happening where I live. That can only lead to bankruptcy and tyranny.

        What do people expect from Trump? I only know what I hope for, less self-destructive transformation than we would have gotten H. Clinton. One man by himself cannot change a nation for the better. He can only set a good example, and I can only pray Trump might do that. Who knows?

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  2. That is rather distorted view of history, particular the Civil Rights era, and what Dr. King did to help get the Civil Rights Acts passed. Without government definition, arbitration and enforcement rights have historically only ever existed in theory. Go to China and tell them that you have a God given right to happiness and they will give it to you, as long as your idea of happiness is a small dark room with locks on the doors.

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    1. A living Constitution is next to useless. That’s the sort of law they have in China.

      Jeremiah 31:33-34 New King James Version (NKJV)

      33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

      It is what was in the hearts of our people that made us a free people.

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      1. Tom-

        Below is a link to Martin Luther King’s “Paul’s Letter to American Christians”. It is an imaginary letter from the Apostle Paul in which the Reverand Dr. King channels what he thought Saint Paul would say to America if he were alive during King’s time. King’s letter from St. Paul full is lofty, it is poetic, it is intellectual and it is divinely profound. In it Dr. King proclaims that the governmental institutions of our democracy could be transformed by Christians united in the power of love to overcome the injustices of legal segretion and to channel the misuse of capitalism away from massively unequal wealth distribution.

        I incourage you to read the whole letter, but here is one passage that stood out to me and inspired almost to tears:

        “The greatest of all virtues is love. Here we find the true meaning of the Christian faith and of the Cross. Calvary is a telescope through which we look into the long vista of eternity and see the love of God breaking into time.”

        http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/documentsentry/doc_pauls_letter_to_american_christians/

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        1. @Tony

          I read the MLK speech at the link you provided (=> http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/documentsentry/doc_pauls_letter_to_american_christians/ ). Since the Apostle Paul wrote so well, I would never have the nerve to write such an imaginary letter. Even MLK’s effort comes up short, but he made an admirable effort.

          Anyway, I can only guess what MLK means by working within the framework of democracy to bring about a better distribution of wealth. Since he emphatically disapproved of Communism, I guess he would not approve of redistributing the wealth. So I am guessing he had other ideas. Were they good ones? I don’t know.

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  3. Tom-

    I guess our country is full of “busybodies”. There are the busybodies who want to make sure that the environmental costs of producing a given product are not externalized outward to make other people’s children sick but rather are internalized and spread into the cost of the product. There are busybodies that insist on making sure that workers can organize to bargain for a fair share of what their labors produce and for safe working conditions. There are also those busy bodies who fight for a good education for all children and for social safety nets for everyone. And finally there are busybodies who insist on regulating what women can do with their bodies, who can contract to marry who and who cannot, what religions will be allowed in the country or not, and who gets to what use bathroom because they personally disapprove of someone else’s changing of there sexual identity. All these “busybodies” excuse their meddling by giving very practical reasons for insisting that their busybodiness is for our own good, but it all sounds like “busybodies” to me. I guess our bodies just have a good work ethic in this country.

    There has always been a conflict inherent in our laws and our social structure between the right to be left alone and the responsibility that we have to each other. It is not a case of one or the other extreme, and there is no simple formula for solving it. Like most virtues, it is a case of pragmatically balancing between extreme vices, and finding the sweetest spot in a constantly moving target.

    It is alright to talk about the right of private business to be intolerant, but what happens if his community of supposed Christian customers with the most money will punish his restaurant or his hotel or his private school if he lets blacks or Muslims or gays eat there, and what if they will reward him with more business if he doesn’t? Farfetched? No. Not if you remember the South only about 60 years ago.

    You say that it is just a short step before government is telling churchs who they have to marry? Well, I think even the ACLU would take up the case in favor of the church if that happened. And a sign that that is unlikely to even come up is that, even after all these years of fighting against discrimination, churches still can refuse to have black members if they want to. So I think you can turn down a notch at least that part of all your hyperbolic rhetoric.

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    1. @Tony

      If people have God-given rights to life, liberty, and they pursuit of happiness, then they obviously have the right to expect those who might pollute to properly dispose of their garbage. On the other hand, if government gives us our rights, then government officials have the right to decide how what pollutants their special friends can dump on the rest of us.

      After the Civil War, the North tried to impose 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments upon the South. Eventually, the North accepted the fact that they did not know how to do it. They ended the enslavement of blacks, but they could not end the persecution and the abuse. They could not even stop it in the North.

      Changing people’s hearts and minds is easier said than done. A constitutional amendment is not enough. What is enough? Martin Luther King forced the bigots to see themselves as they were. He put a mirror up in front of them. When the police beat up and turned the dogs on peaceful black demonstrators, news crews recorded those events, and people were horrified by what they saw.

      Government did not actually solve the problem. That mirror did.

      Tyrannies have a much more simple solution. What tyrannies do with people they consider troublesome is get rid of them.

      Trust the ACLU to do the right thing?
      :mrgreen:

      Like

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