A thought-provoking essay by Jon Meacham graced my mailbox last week as the cover story in the July 2, 2012 issue of TIME magazine: “The History of the American Dream.”
The portion of the article that dealt with the role of government rang a loud bell for me. Family and friends will give a weary nod when they recall how many times I have wondered out loud if anyone in Washington (or those who would like to have a job in Washington) ever took the time to read a history book.
The Meacham article reminds us that:
It was Lincoln who signed, a hundred and fifty years ago, laws that used “…the power of government to settle the West.” The Pacific Railroad Act provided “…federal support to the creation of a transcontinental railroad…,” unifying the country culturally and economically. The Homestead Act allowed settlers to claim “…small parcels of farmland west of the Mississippi, making new lives (and livelihoods) possible.”
It was the work of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal that “…added a new dimension to the American Dream: the broad expectation that government had a role to play in advancing individual lives.”
It was the Morrill Act that established land-grant universities, making higher education more accessible throughout the country.
It was Reagan who told us government is the problem “…but didn’t do a great deal to dismantle it.” And it was Clinton who told us the era of Big Government was over “…but kept the country in the political center as the boom of the 1990s powered by information technology (with roots, inevitably, in government spending) created record surpluses.”
I admit to still holding on to a belief that government can and does do some good, that much of what we think of as progress cannot be accomplished without government support and , yes, regulation. I also believe that those who cheat and steal should be rooted out and punished, but also believe no government program will ever be devised that eliminates less than perfect behavior.