Throughout the 20th century, the concept of government has redefined itself, leaving the American public worse off. The increase in government power, both socially and fiscally, was so complete by the 2008 general election that few seemed to realize that both major parties were parties of expansion.
There are two issues inherent in the meaning of expansion. The government can increase in size by increasing government spending and bureaucracies and also by amplifying its position as an intrusive moral authority. Every person is born with every liberty that doesn’t extend harm to another and it is OK for the government to protect those liberties. However, when the government (and the public) believes it reasonable to take away such rights, it becomes an unwarranted expansion of government.
The transformation of public perception, at least regarding domestic policies, began under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s. His legislation had two major consequences. The first is that they did, in fact, slow America’s tumble into poverty. The second might have been more permanent.
By the time Roosevelt’s domestic securities were in place, each American had it firmly ingrained in his or her mind that the government was there to help.
This is not a fair expectation. The government is not here to help the public, and such thoughts are actually quite dangerous. The government, and all the individuals in it, has the strict incentive to draw more power, taking rights and liberties away from the American people. This attitude becomes most dangerous when it spreads away from fiscal policies and toward ethical issues.
This way of thinking that the government can and should play such a significant part in our lives has gone so far that now governments even believe they have the right to ban marriage between two people. If the American public did a better job of keeping the government in check, ridiculous measures like Proposition 8 in California would never have passed.
Proposition 8 is a perfect example of how misconstrued government has become. No authority in the world has the right to deny anyone marriage, no matter their sexual preference. Just as the American government took a step forward with laws like the 1964 Civil Rights Act, so have state governments taken a leap backward with laws like Proposition 8.
Both the Democratic and Republican parties believe in the expansion of government.
While the Democratic Party’s platform is both more transparent and less harmful, it still has miles to go with its social policy. The Republican Party, however, offers a platform that broadens the government’s role in foreign affairs and swells its status as an invasive moral authority. In addition to the fact that the United States witnessed two of the most aggressive leaps in government growth under presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, the Republican Party’s intrinsic egoism has become so pervasive and destructive that it is pulling the country backwards and the American people down.
Neither party has it right yet. It is our job, as students and activists, to work public opinion in the right direction so that, by the next election, the government will be driving to protect our liberties once again.
Epstein is a member of the class of 2010.