For two and a quarter centuries, leaders of the United States have struggled to remain faithful to the Constitution, the ingenious new plan for a country devised by its founders—individuals who labored for years to refine their insights and achieve consensus. In general, their plan has served us well, and we have grown as a nation.
Things have changed a bit, of course, and the vast institution that governs this vast nation has had to change, too. In 1776, there were about 2.5 million people living in the colonies that became the first states, and only a small fraction of them (adult white male land-owners) were privileged to participate in decision making. There are now over 306 million U.S. residents, 65% of them eligible to vote. At the country’s start, communication could travel only as fast as a good horse and rider; now most residents of the planet (and even those in orbit) can connect with one another almost instantaneously in a variety of ways. Other countries—most of which, in the time of our forefathers, could be reached only by means of a long ocean voyage—are now only hours away by plane (or minutes by missile).
So government has had to grow, too. This question of how large and how extensive government should be is, of course, at the root of much of the controversy between the two major political parties in the U.S. Like so many things in American politics, it’s all too often discussed and debated emotionally rather than rationally. But it’s a question that must be discussed.
So here, for the sake of what I hope will be meaningful dialogue, are the reasons I think the government of the U.S. in the 21st century must be fairly large and comprehensive:
1. To prevent exploitation of individuals by big companies and financial institutions.
2. To protect the environment.
3. To maintain the health of the national and international economies.
4. To protect the nation and its allies against aggression.
5. To foster technological and scientific progress.
6. To provide for the poor.
7. To ensure the safety of products and services.
8. To protect citizens abroad.
9. To cultivate the nation’s heritage and protect the constitutional rights of its citizens.
10. To provide consistency, communication, and coordination among the many departments, agencies, and bureaus that provide these services.
Have at it, Republicans!