Mitt Romney’s closing statement on the role of government at the debate Wednesday night is worth another look:
There are some libertarian bones to pick with Romney’s idea that “the pursuit of happiness” includes “making sure that those people who are less fortunate and can’t care for themselves are cared by one another.” He’s talking about the role of government, not the obligation of good citizens to voluntarily engage in charity. That means he’s essentially discussing the importance of using government force to compel charitable behavior. This would still be fundamentally true even if the only federal welfare program was the tax deduction for charitable contributions – it’s an incentive to engage in government-approved charitable endeavors.
But it’s fairly obvious that the Americans almost universally desire a “safety net” of some sort, for the truly unfortunate. We always have, and with the resources of modern industrial technology at our disposal, we see no reason why the federal government should not have a hand in weaving that safety net from coast to coast.
And Romney was careful to indicate that he’s thinking of a much more carefully administered safety net than the bloated mess currently bleeding America’s economic strength away: “What we’re seeing right now is, in my view, a trickle-down government approach which has government thinking it can do a better job than free people pursuing their dreams. And it’s not working. And the proof of that is 23 million people out of work. The proof of that is one out of six people in poverty. The proof of that is we’ve gone from 32 million on food stamps to 47 million on food stamps. The proof of that is that 50 percent of college graduates this year can’t find work. The path we’re taking is not working. It is time for a new path.”
Our unsustainable government is often presented by its apologists as the only alternative to anarchy and desperation. It’s either $3.6 trillion in spending a year, including over a trillion bucks we don’t actually have, or poor people will die of starvation and disease. But the truth is that essential social services, wisely administered, would not be a crushing burden on the public treasury. We wouldn’t be talking about fiscal collapse and massive tax hikes if the government was safeguarding life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as Romney described. His sense of the role of government is sound, and far more in tune with the vision of the American people than what his debate opponent offered.