“We do believe you can use government in a good way. Government is the only thing we all belong to.” –Overheard at DNC 2012
President Kennedy once challeneged us to reconsider our relationship with America: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” It was an inspiring inaugural call to patriotism, duty, and common purpose. I imagine the Democratic Convention aimed to channel some of that former transcendence to make up for what they lost over the last four years. But instead they only succeeded, once again, in leaving us to wonder whether the Party of F.D.R. has finally derailed.
In context—always the first sleight of damage control—the narrator of that DNC video talks about our many different “churches” and “clubs” and how the government, from the local to the federal, unites us into a people. In other words, we presumably have a government of, by, and for communal unity. In this vision, the state is the embodiment of the general will, a la Rousseau, and the government is the expression of communal desires. And to this, we all purportedly belong.
It is a grand idea, save for everything wrong with it.
Since it apparently must be said, the arms of Washington are much too far away to grasp my neighborhood. And I would rather they not come any closer, thank you very much. I don’t even know the names of my local officials, let alone their political affiliations. But I’d bet $10,000—plus Stephanie Cutter’s audacity—that they don’t know most of my neighbors from Adam. Whatever the service of our elected servants, we do not vote on their bills, and they do not sit at our tables. Government is not community. It is a complex machine designed for certain limited ends, and like any machine, government has the potential to be disastrous if handled poorly.
That liberals seem incapable of understanding this reality underlies their obstinate expansion of the state into everything from dictating our beverage containers to micromanaging the terms of our healthcare policies, complete with ever growing debt to finance all this. By contrast, the “churches” and “clubs” so idly dismissed as divisive are full of people who actually know us well enough to touch our lives effectively. It is from such personal, spiritual bonds that we develop purpose and identity. Through our fidelity to our communities, we all belong to the American ideals of freedom, opportunity, and honor.
The president is not our friend and our officials are not our brothers. They are employees each elected or appointed to do a job. If any of them is unable or unwilling to meet our expectations, then our duty is to fire that one and hire another. As much as that callous, impersonal approach is abhorrent to the idea of family, government will never be a community to which anyone can properly belong.
The state can neither save nor love us. But it can get out of the way of our prosperity.