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Government: big vs small

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Wed Jan 25, 2012 5:13 am
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Undercover_Ninja says...



I heard this line in President Obama's State of the Union address today which caught my attention.

"I'm a Democrat. But I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed: That Government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more."

I think the majority of us agree with him on that. But the question is, what can the government really do better than the people? That's what separates most people on politics.
As a newly registered voter, I'm still working on my political beliefs. Please tell me your stance on how involved the government should be in the lives of people in America, and why your stand is best for ALL of America, not just one group of people. Try to convince me and please be specific. Vague assertions won't help your case.
I'm open to hear both sides of this debate and try to gain new perspectives. Thanks!
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Wed Jan 25, 2012 6:19 am
Snoink says...



I think the government should represent the people, lol. All the people. So, ideally the people and the government would be pretty close to each other, and there shouldn't be this huge gap between the government and the people. I realize that this is an idealistic case, but hey!
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Wed Jan 25, 2012 9:14 am
inkwell says...



Snoink wrote:I think the government should represent the people, lol. All the people. So, ideally the people and the government would be pretty close to each other, and there shouldn't be this huge gap between the government and the people. I realize that this is an idealistic case, but hey!


I had a conversation about this exact problem with someone last week! It's awful that the government has become such a detached entity. Ideally, like you said, we are the government. But this sentiment of detachment (some people I know even make deliberate distinctions between the United States and the "United States Government") is not unwarranted.

Anyway, in regards to the topic (which also leans on ideals), I find that the key is to strike a balance. In the absence of government, there is tyranny. With totalitarianism there is also tyranny. If you would like something more detailed then give us an example of where you think there is improper government involvement, and we can go from there.
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Wed Jan 25, 2012 9:50 am
Attolia says...



I also completely agree with what Snoink said. And I also add in the military (I think about this too). Ideally, the government, the military, and the people should all be interchangeable for complete freedom. This was more the case when the US was newly founded. Instead, today the three are complete separate spheres - the rulers, the fighters, and the civilians - making it more of an "us versus them" mentality and making us, the civilians, more akin to subjects.

I'm huge advocate of small government, and if this were a year ago I'd go into a long spiel about why this is obviously, naturally the best way to ensure freedom for all and how it enables the self-reliance through which people thrive, blah blah blah. I still believe this in theory, but it's kind of pointless to believe in practice because both parties want big government. It's back to what Snoink said - government has become a separate entity. Regardless of official ideological position, they all just want more power, favors, and connections, which is not cohesive with small government. There are currently so many useless positions in government which could be pruned or combined for greater efficiency, but that's never going to happen because they are the ones who have control over these things and they're not going to fire themselves.

So, you may as well believe in big government, because that's what you're going to live under.
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Wed Jan 25, 2012 8:57 pm
Undercover_Ninja says...



Attolia wrote:So, you may as well believe in big government, because that's what you're going to live under.


I wouldn't be so quick to say that.

Thanks for all the feedback, everyone. Here's what I think is the problem. On one side, we've got the idealistic bunch who would like to see the federal government become much smaller than it is (including me). Then there's the side who says, "well, yeah, but who's going to make sure the rich don't keep getting richer while the poor cannot afford college, get a good job, and therefore remain poor?"
I feel for both sides, and it frustrates me to think I have to choose one or the other.
So how about doing both? It's as if we're assuming that either the federal government does it or no one does. Maybe that's what state governments are for! What if we made the federal government smaller, lowered federal taxes, and encouraged state governments to raise their taxes and do the things that its own people want to do. Some could try doing more programs like financial aid for education, health care, and social security, while others might choose not to. Then people could compare states with smaller governments to states with larger ones, and see for themselves whether or not government programs were good for the people. But either way, the federal government would stay out of it.
The way I see it, government programs are more effective the more local they are. Trying to solve all of the nation's problems from Washington is never going to work. It's like some of you pointed out; government is too disconnected nowadays that it feels like it's separate from the people. And I agree, it doesn't have to be.
I'd be glad to hear what you think of my "replace federal with state government programs" idea. Why it would or wouldn't work.
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Wed Jan 25, 2012 10:42 pm
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Attolia says...



Hehe. I just like to be that annoying, cynical prick.

Anyway, I'm super impressed with your analysis, and I agree with it.

Then there's the side who says, "well, yeah, but who's going to make sure the rich don't keep getting richer while the poor cannot afford college, get a good job, and therefore remain poor?"


^The small-government ideology answers this, actually. That handouts breed the culture of dependency that has the poor remain poor. That big-government has a underlying sense of elitism that people can't take care of themselves - and then when you subsequently enact practices that reflect this, babying them, they get used to it and actually start being unable to take care of themselves. But I don't wanna get too much into that, and I'm not an extremist on it - I do believe a certain amount of safety net is necessary.

So, to your main point of "maybe that's what state governments are for!"

^Oh, for sure. Without a doubt. Let's take a look at the 10th amendment, folks:

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Aka, anything not expressly specified by the Constitution is the role of state governments, not the feds. Hahahahah. This is sooo grossly violated with today's government. Ideally, states should exercise the majority of power, and the feds should just be for the military, logistics like interstate highways, enforcement of constitution, etc. Our founding fathers were so afraid of federal despotism that this is actually what the first decade of our country's life looked like - but the articles of confederation failed miserably (mostly bc taxation was voluntary). You do need a certain of level of federal power to have unity; the right of nullification would've only resulted in fifty sovereign states instead of one sovereign nation.

So, the big question, like you said, is where this line should be drawn. Unfortunately, once the feds were given supreme authority, it's difficult to check - as is any power once granted.

Logistics. Why it might not work slash just won't happen.

If you look at political theory, people like Aristotle and Rousseau would say that different sizes of states are better suited to different types of government. Mainly that large states function best with autocracy, medium-sized states with aristocracy/oligarchy, and small states with democracy. History validated this, with nations like France, England, and the Netherlands being examples of each respective size and type of government. So, they would say that the United States needs more executive authority to run smoothly since it's such a large country - strengthening of state powers would led to eventual fragmentation.

^They're correct in their assessments of states and size, I reckon. Democracy is staggeringly inefficient. Definitely the most inefficient form of government, and just gets worse the larger the state. But given that we're keeping democracy, then like you said, if you localize government there'd be a lot less inefficiency. And I believe we really should go down this path. There's just a very delicate balance of how much you can do this, before we get back to saying "the United States are..." instead of "the United States is."

So yeah, I think it could work, granted that sufficient national unity remained. I just don't think it could ever could happen in the near future, as it's too difficult to backtrack. It's a hell of a lot easier to create new government programs and positions than it is to remove them, and we are already so far gone.
But I'm also very eager to see other opinions on this.
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Wed Jan 25, 2012 11:17 pm
skwmusic says...



This is a folly that republicans always use when attacking democrats. They claim that they want big government! Arghhh the government's always in your life and blah blah blah. The problem is the term "big government" is very broad. We can say Soviet Russia had a big government but we can also say present-day Japan has a big government. What should really be in question is what powers the government has. I for one believe the purpose of government is to serve the people and do everything in it's power to do that. I also believe that the government shouldn't tell people what to do as long as it's not hurting anyone else. This is the hypocrisy of the republicans. While they want low regulations and low taxes and low spending, they want to pass laws to prohibit drug usage, certain orientation marriages, to propagate "family values", creationism, in fact the only thing they won't regulate in people's personal lives in guns. And I'm not talking about all republicans, I know plenty who are economically conservative but socially liberal. But statistically republicans are more likely to believe in the above things I listed. So the question is not big government or small government, it's what powers we want to give and don't want to give. Big governments have done great harm to its people, but also great services. I can't say the same for small governments but I don't see why the above statement couldn't be true for them either.
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Thu Jan 26, 2012 4:30 pm
Undercover_Ninja says...



skwmusic wrote: I for one believe the purpose of government is to serve the people and do everything in it's power to do that. I also believe that the government shouldn't tell people what to do as long as it's not hurting anyone else. This is the hypocrisy of the republicans. While they want low regulations and low taxes and low spending, they want to pass laws to prohibit drug usage, certain orientation marriages, to propagate "family values", creationism, in fact the only thing they won't regulate in people's personal lives in guns.


Thanks for the input! Finally a more democratic point of view lol.
Now onto the issues. I agree with you completely when you say the republicans are actually advocates for big government when it comes to social issues (usually). No gay marriage, no abortion, no drugs... The majority of Republicans actually support more government regulation in these areas. So I can't argue with you here. I think a true small government advocate should be more liberal on these issues.
" I also believe that the government shouldn't tell people what to do as long as it's not hurting anyone else. "
Well, the question is, what isn't hurting anyone else? The conservative defense against gay marriage is that it undermines the traditional family, which is such a fundamental part of our society. The conservative defense against abortion is that it is hurting someone else. It is taking the life of a human. I am strongly against abortion for this reason, but that's a different debate. (I know this offends some as taking away a woman's rights... so it's a very controversial issue). And drugs... I'm honestly not sure what the conservative defense is for that. But my point is, social conservatives probably agree with you on that, only they think that allowing people to do these things actually hurts people other than themselves in the overall picture.
But again, your point was that both parties are supportive of big government, just on different issues. This brings me back to my proposal. Why not let the states handle abortion, drugs, and gay marriage? We can keep the government small, but social conservatives can still fight to protect their values. And likewise liberals can fight for social freedom.

A quick argument against a claim you made in the quote that Republicans somehow want to impose Creationism. From my experience (and I come from a very Republican background), Republicans do not want to impose Creationism. They simply want it to have equal footing with Evolution (and by that I mean the theory that one species can evolve into a totally new species). And from what we see in the public school system, democrats (some at least) would like to impose Evolution. This is another debate, but again, I don't think it's fair to accuse Republicans of promoting Creationism unfairly while saying Democrats don't don't do that for Evolution.

Now I'm going to go study the Constitution. I probably should before I propose any more of my "ideas," so I at least know if they are Constitutional. :smt017
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Thu Jan 26, 2012 11:29 pm
skwmusic says...



Well, the question is, what isn't hurting anyone else? The conservative defense against gay marriage is that it undermines the traditional family, which is such a fundamental part of our society. The conservative defense against abortion is that it is hurting someone else. It is taking the life of a human. I am strongly against abortion for this reason, but that's a different debate. (I know this offends some as taking away a woman's rights... so it's a very controversial issue). And drugs... I'm honestly not sure what the conservative defense is for that. But my point is, social conservatives probably agree with you on that, only they think that allowing people to do these things actually hurts people other than themselves in the overall picture.


Well I didn't go into this the first time but since you bring it up I guess I'll build on my post.

Perhaps "hurting" wasn't a good way to put it. So let's choose a random topic like gay marriage, a current controversial topic. Gay marriage is the act in which two people of the same sex choose to get married consensually. Obvious right? Here's my next question. How is that imposing on the freedom of anyone else? How is that hurting anyone? We can make the argument that "oh their parents will be ashamed" and blah blah blah but that is the parent's OPINION. Their right to their opinion is not harmed. None of their rights are harmed in fact, except the right to live in a society where gay marriage doesn't exist. They are not physically harmed by the act. Why is it illegal in most states?

This is why I believe something like human trafficking should be illegal. It imposes on a person's right to choose where they want to live and under who, if anyone, they want to live under.

I can make the same argument for marijuana but I won't to save space (though I will if you want me to).

I personally am pro-choice because I do think it's the woman's decision but once again, off topic.

This brings me back to my proposal. Why not let the states handle abortion, drugs, and gay marriage? We can keep the government small, but social conservatives can still fight to protect their values. And likewise liberals can fight for social freedom.


Like I said I believe the role of the government is to protect the people. It shouldn't be able to dictate who gets what rights and who doesn't. So I think the concept of having states choose is bad. Honestly that just gives redneck bible bolsters rights to impose their beliefs on others. So instead of becoming a unified state we become a fragmented state where parts of the country are socially conservative and others are socially liberal. And I'm not saying that it's not like that right now, but the divide will be even worse. It will be like night and day. I don't think that's healthy for a country as large as ours.

Now I'm going to go study the Constitution. I probably should before I propose any more of my "ideas," so I at least know if they are Constitutional. :smt017


One thing I don't like about people who call themselves constitutionalists is that they don't realize that the constitution is supposed to be a living document, bending and stretching to meet the current societies needs and concerns. I'm not saying you are a constitutionalists but I thought I'd let you know.
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Fri Jan 27, 2012 11:08 pm
Undercover_Ninja says...



skwmusic wrote:One thing I don't like about people who call themselves constitutionalists is that they don't realize that the constitution is supposed to be a living document, bending and stretching to meet the current societies needs and concerns. I'm not saying you are a constitutionalists but I thought I'd let you know.


First off, you really need to define your terms better. The word you are looking for is "strict constructionist," not "constitutionalist." I'd sure hope we are all "constitutionalists," meaning we support the Constitution. I believe you are a "loose constructionist." You support the Constitution as a guideline, and assume any powers not prohibited from the Federal government are up for grabs. I am more of a "strict constructionist," meaning I believe any power not granted to the Federal government is given to the states. That's not to say I don't believe it's a living document though; I just think it should only be modified with Amendments, and those should be used sparingly. But there is a lot of controversy between strict and loose constructionism, going all the way back to Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. So it's a fair debate.

skwmusic wrote:Perhaps "hurting" wasn't a good way to put it. So let's choose a random topic like gay marriage, a current controversial topic. Gay marriage is the act in which two people of the same sex choose to get married consensually. Obvious right? Here's my next question. How is that imposing on the freedom of anyone else? How is that hurting anyone? We can make the argument that "oh their parents will be ashamed" and blah blah blah but that is the parent's OPINION. Their right to their opinion is not harmed. None of their rights are harmed in fact, except the right to live in a society where gay marriage doesn't exist.


Alright, enough of my defending the typical conservative viewpoint. I in fact do not agree with many conservatives, including on the topic of gay marriage. As a Christian I was hesitant to support legalizing gay marriage, worried that it was somehow un-Biblical. It isn't. While gay marriage is un-Biblical I believe, so is lying, coveting, and a host of other things not penalized by the government. But even in the book of Samuel when Saul was anointed king of Israel, God clearly stated that it was against His will. But since the people wanted it, he gave them freedom to choose. So while I believe such things are sinful, I believe it is only the government's duty to protect the liberty of the people; not make their lives somehow "holy" or sinless. So I disagree with a lot of Christians in that the government should legalize gay marriage. The same goes for drugs, which I think should be legalized as long as they are not hurting or infringing upon the liberties of others. I don't know a lot about that topic though.
The only area I would still disagree with you on is abortion, since I think it is infringing on the rights of others. But this is a government debate, not pro-choice vs pro-life. :-P
I take this stance because I believe if Christians want a government that doesn't discriminate against them, we need to support a government that doesn't discriminate against other groups.

skwmusic wrote:
Like I said I believe the role of the government is to protect the people. It shouldn't be able to dictate who gets what rights and who doesn't. So I think the concept of having states choose is bad. Honestly that just gives redneck bible bolsters rights to impose their beliefs on others. So instead of becoming a unified state we become a fragmented state where parts of the country are socially conservative and others are socially liberal. And I'm not saying that it's not like that right now, but the divide will be even worse. It will be like night and day. I don't think that's healthy for a country as large as ours.


Just wanted to say I think you've got a legitimate case there. Don't know enough on the topic to take a definite stance yet though.

But I still stand by my claim of keeping the federal government small. Protect life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and then get out of the way please Uncle Sam!
You can only believe what you can't see. If you can see it, you no longer believe it-- you know it.

Even an agnostic believes something, if nothing else than that nothing else is believable. So what do you believe?