The Washington Post

The question we should be asking ourselves

Ed's recent post is a very pure expression of why I am a Democrat. He cites a new Fox News Poll where Americans are asked whether they would like to tell government to “leave me alone” (54 percent) or “lend me a hand” (35 percent), with a significant difference in the answer depending on one’s political party. Ed is right that this is one of the central fault lines of politics today— dependency versus freedom— and it’s worth a closer look.

Every one in the nation depends on the federal government, and not just for the nation’s defense and infrastructure. And many who receive largesse complain bitterly about the government — from the welfare recipient to the mortgage interest deductor to the CEO whose business relies on federal contracts. George McGovern frequently told a story about waiting in line at a supermarket and hearing a patron complain about the big-spending Democrats and then paying for his groceries with food stamps.

My belief is very simple: Too many Republicans want to cut out the dependence that supports social programs, but keep it for corporations and wealthier individuals — like Mitt Romney — many of whom rely on subsidies and tax breaks to help them thrive. Their position is hypocritical, unfair and divisive.

The real argument we should be having is not a false one between government dependence and individual freedom. Rather we should examine what government should be doing differently and better in order to foster economic growth, which is the key to regaining what is our dwindling chance at renewed prosperity. We should examine social programs, many of which do foster dependence and need to be re-invented. We need to means test entitlements, raise the retirement age, leverage the private sector to help control health-care costs. We should means test the mortgage deduction, redouble efforts to reform government procurement and examine corporate subsidies with an eye toward limiting them. We should also channel the savings from these moves, along with the revenue that comes from gradually canceling the Bush tax cuts, into an investment fund for infrastructure and research — medical and otherwise. 

The question we should be asking ourselves is not just whether we as individuals are better off, but whether we as a nation could be.


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