What is the role of the United States government? Looking at the ways people both within our government and under it approach the most important social and political issues of our time, I don't believe we're anywhere near an agreement about that question. Ultimately, that's what every political debate is about: whether or not it is in the government's purview to act. People write into this site every week talking about their expectations for federal government action in certain current events and about the effect our nation's overall socio-economic condition is having on individual lives. The tone in these letters is almost always one of disappointment, frustration and occasionally desperation. It may well be time for the citizens of the United States to ask whether or not they should even expect their government to take action in their lives.
One of this week's writers, a California woman named Tamara Holton, wrote in to express her concern for the recent Congressional decision to not extend unemployment benefits. Mrs. Holton and her husband have spent the past year dependent on such government services due to illness and, like most people, the struggling economy. She explains her family's dire situation and their dedication to being, as the saying goes, honest, tax-paying citizens.
Other writers this week shared their troubles, including a man and woman from Kentucky who are struggling to maintain their role as foster parents to two abused children because of financial strain, as well as a Cuban immigrant who has been living in America for nearly 40 years and is now facing unmanageable court fees following a messy divorce. These two cases, along with Mrs. Holton's story, should encourage us to call into question just what role our government should and should not play in our everyday lives.
Tamara Holton and the Kentucky foster parents are asking the United States government, on both the federal and state levels, to assist them in surviving. For so many people today, the idea of government assistance has become an assumption. In truth, the very concept of government aid in the United States is less than a century old, a social experiment that has only played out in full for, at best, two generations. While an entity as large and well-funded as the US government certainly has an ethical responsibility to use its resources to benefit people, we today have to face the possibility that our government simply isn't capable of providing such aid. By creating an environment in which people expect benefits and safety nets, from unemployment to social security, without also making laws and efficient assessment structures to properly implement them, perhaps our government has made a promise to its people it just can't keep. Government aid is a fairweather concept. When the majority don't require aid, the few who do can attain it with ease. But as that balance of need tips in the other direction, the few cannot hope to support the many.
And as for Maria Granger, the Cuban immigrant facing absurd court fees, perhaps this already difficult period would be made easier without the blind meddling of a court in her personal and financial life. Unfortunately for Maria and anyone else in this country who wants to be left alone, there is no current political party that is truly interested in limiting government control over individuals. The Republican Party, which once stood for this principle and continues to espouse it today, is far from the hands-off, personal freedom party it says it is. It seems that the Americans who need government attention aren't getting it, while those who ought to be left alone are dogged by the state daily.