Rhoda Barr: What makes a ‘perfect union?’
Breckenridge, CO Colorado
Morgan Liddick starts a healthy debate on what the purpose of government ought to be (SDN, Jan. 27). Let me suggest the preamble to our Constitution:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence (sic), promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
But as always, the devil is in the details.
What makes a more perfect union? Is it when some states allow credit card companies to charge outrageous interest rates that all of us have to pay? Is it when some states recognize gay marriage while others won’t?
What is domestic tranquility? Allowing predatory mortgage practices that lead to record levels of home foreclosure and ruin whole communities? Or building more prisons to lock up more drug users?
What is justice? Jim Crow laws ” oh right, we finally abolished those. Discrimination against women? In my lifetime, women were rarely allowed to enroll in medical and law schools, for example. The Equal Rights Amendment is history, but the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made a huge difference. The discrepancies between crack and cocaine sentences, which have such a disparate racial impact? Requiring voter ID that effectively disenfranchises millions of citizens?
What is common “defence?” The military, obviously. And because the economy has tanked so badly, the armed forces are meeting their recruiting goals for the first time in years.
What is the general welfare? Roads that allow us to get around in our cars? My mother thought we shouldn’t have to pay for the interstate highways ” let private companies build toll roads. The state of Texas is considering exactly that. Mass transit to keep out roads clearer, our skies cleaner, and allow those who can’t afford cars to get around? We are the only nation in the world that expects mass transit to make a profit, instead of subsidizing it as a public good. Public schools? Milton Friedman says education should be parents’ responsibility. I think it’s worth my while to have public schools that educate my neighbors’ children so they’ll become productive adults. Universal health care? Conservative say this is a personal responsibility. With the current cost of health care, it’s cheaper to treat people when they first become sick, and it’s in all our interest to ensure that people are healthy enough to work.
What are the blessings of liberty? Some would say freedom from taxes and regulation. Others would say freedom from worrying about lead in toys, or financial sector meltdowns, or contaminated food, because we have effective regulation.
I think we should thank Mr. Liddick for encouraging us to ask the right questions.
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