When superstorm Sandy smashed ashore last week, it triggered floods and fires, leaving millions on the East Coast without power, while taking lives in the process. It also became a cruel reminder of the importance of government in our lives.
The role of government has long been the political piñata that is knocked about as if it were the supreme impediment prohibiting the nation from experiencing any progress.
Sandy brings home, in the most graphic ways imaginable, that refrains such as "government is not the answer to our problems; government is the problem" are merely sophomoric pabulum that may be an effective applause line on the campaign trail, but is hardly to be taken literally.
It is easy to deride the evils of government while hyping the virtues of the private sector. But this narrow paradigm serves only the interest of those advocating this perspective.
There is no private sector response for the magnitude of Sandy. There wasn't one for hurricanes Katrina, Andrew, Hugo, or any of their myriad destructive counterparts.
Thomas Jefferson, who often warned about the potential of government expansion, stated:
"I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them."
Jefferson's philosophical eloquence about limited government would prove to be in tension with the realities of governing.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose state has been hit hard by Sandy and who has also been a vocal critic of President Barack Obama's leadership, was full of praise this week with the president's handling of Sandy thus far.
"The president has been outstanding in this and so have the folks at FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency)," Christie said.
Has there been a bridge to the middle class more effective than the Serviceman's Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the GI Bill? This federal government legislation provided a range of benefits for returning World War II veterans that included low-cost mortgages, loans to start a business or farm, cash payments of tuition and living expenses to attend college, or vocational education.
For 66 years, the Glass-Steagall Act prohibited banks from returning to the practices that fueled the Great Depression. But after it's final repeal in 1999, America was once again on the brink of a second Depression by 2007.
Over the decades, Social Security and Medicare have made a difference in the lives of seniors.
It is the federal government that ensures the water we drink or the food we consume is not contaminated; it provides student loans, as well as providing a social safety net for those on the margins. It also provides tax incentives that benefit a cross-section of economic interests.
Most Americans support the notion of welfare to work. But what happens when employment is tight? It becomes a worthwhile policy in theory that is nothing more than a cruel hoax in reality.
If the private sector is unable to meet the demand for jobs, there is a role for government to fill that void.
It is easy to bemoan government, but Sandy forces us to ask: What type of society do we want? Do we really want government to simply get out of the way?
Where's the balance that accentuates the best that the private sector and government have to offer?
Government has a role; the private sector has a role. To argue otherwise is to advocate against the collective best interest of the country.
Contact Byron Williams at 510-208-6417 or firstname.lastname@example.org.