What Will Replace So-Called "Big Government"?

There is a statement often heard which could be classified as "I know what I don't want but have no time to decide what will take its place". That statement is "I don't want the federal government telling me what I can or can't do". This is usually spoken in the context of a discussion regarding environmental regulations or educational reforms or taxes or whatever is intruding upon the fashionable American desire to do as we please and to hell with everyone else.

If the listener is so bold, he or she might inquire just what function our nation's government should be performing, then. Should it only be charged with the defense of the nation from foreign powers? Should it be involved in protecting its citizens from the pollution of neighboring nations but not from domestic sources or should it just ignore these problems and leave the cleanliness of the air and water and soil to the multi-national corporations and farmers and other economic sources? Should the government be involved in safety issues in the workplace? Should they be involved in assisting those among its citizens who are unable to protect or fend for themselves? Should they be able to regulate business practices that adversely affects other Americans or trust in the goodness of the executive soul (an oxymoron, perhaps?)?

Whatever is the current source of the complaints, I see few alternatives, each bringing with it massive additional troubles for our children's future.

We could charge the federal government with only the most basic of responsibilities, such as the defense of our borders and the collection of only those taxes needed to perform that function. This would remove all areas which are the cause of so much grieving and wailing amongst the advocates of "smaller government". This won't negate the need for the decisions once made at the federal level, it will only force Americans to make some very tough choices, indeed.

The current trend is to remove powers from the federal level and cede them to the states. This "State's Rights" movement has yet to answer some very important questions, though, mostly because no one has had the courage to ask them. Questions such as if one state chooses to eventually remove all social services in order to save money and lower taxes, will the other states stand for the increased budget load from the influx of the citizens who flee this meanness or will they just follow suit and eliminate the same programs? If one state decides to lower environmental controls for in-state corporations, will other states follow in order to save the jobs and taxes of all of the employers which will happily move where they have no penalty for polluting and will neighboring states have to pick up the cost of cleaning the pollution when it enters their jurisdiction? Will health and safety laws be enforced in one state but not others? Will highways be maintained by each state and how well and through what funding mechanism?

Will we simply expect Corporate America to regulate, police and enforce its own standards of conduct in areas which affect the health and well-being of the population? Will they spend the money needed to protect the environment and the health of the world's citizens out of a feeling of responsibility or a newly discovered moral code? Will they provide safe working conditions for their employees? Will they provide the health and financial assistance needed by these workers? Will they assist in providing an extensive and general education for the children of America? Will they allow themselves to be taxed at a rate which will allow for the maintenance of the country's infrastructure; its roads and bridges and airports?

Can we expect the religious community to change two thousand years of history and to begin providing financial and employment and health assistance to the nation's needy regardless of their spiritual beliefs? Can we expect the parishioners from these communities to give enough of their incomes to provide this help? What would happen if some denominations happily provided this assistance but others refused? Would all stop or would there be sufficient spiritual leverage to bring all into the program? And, at a lower level, what if only some of a particular church's parishioners chose to give and others simply refused or demanded that their "gifts" only benefit a small and particular portion of the needy?

Until the conservative-right, from the President on down, delineates and demonstrates how America will function in their perception of a perfect nation we must stop butchering what we have. There is no doubt that the federal government's direction is wrong but, like so many other beneficial areas already ravaged in the mass hysteria of the conservative's march over America's lower- and middle-classes, we have no expressed alternatives to that which no longer exists. An intelligent and reasonable person plans alternatives and then modifies their behavior; they do not commit suicide to cease their former behavior.

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Copyright 8/21/97