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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Speaking Of The General Welfare

For me, the best part of this BooMan post:

Those whio will vote republican this year are not of necessity "bad people." They often perform many good acts. They rally in times of crisis to help their neighbors. They enlist in the military, or send their sons and daughters to do so. They volunteer as firefighters. Sadly, they don't see that their actions are an expression of a profoundly important American value: supporting the community so that all may prosper. Nor do they understand that for all to do well, we need a government that works for all the people, not one run by oligarchs and corporations for the limited benefit of the rich.

Government has always existed and always will. Anyone who thinks otherwise is fooling themselves. The fundamental question is who will our government serve? Will it serve the interests of all Americans, or those of the few? The Republicans stand for the latter proposition, almost uniformly. Democrats, as bad and timid and weak as they often are, primarily stand for the opposite view. Americans should never give up the value of individual achievement. It has led to many great accomplishments and successes.

However, neither should they ignore the value of community, for it is as a community, acting through our government, that we have achieved our greatest feats: the end of slavery, the defeat of fascism and totalitarian communism, the creation of a large middle class, technologies that came out of the effort to send Americans to the Moon, and so on. 

Brings to mind an old story:

Mr. Lincoln once remarked to a fellow-passenger on an old-time mud-coach that all men were prompted by selfishness in doing good. His fellow-passenger was antagonizing this position when they were passing over a corduroy bridge that panned a slough. As they crossed this bridge they espied an old razorbacked sow on the bank making a terrible noise because her pigs had got into the slough and were in danger of drowning. As the old coach began to climb the hill, Mr. Lincoln jumped out, ran back, and lifted the little pigs out of the mud and water and placed them on the bank. When he returned, his companion remarked: “Now Abe, where does selfishness come in on this little episode?” Why bless your soul, Ed, that was the very essence of selfishness. I should have had no peace of mind all day had I gone on and left that suffering old sow worrying over those pigs. I did it to get peace of mind, don’t you see?”

Self-interest and community--or selfishness and altruism--are really two sides of the same coin.  Would that more people recognized it.


October 30, 2012 | Permalink


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Great old story!

To me, the fact that the "general welfare" made it into the preamble... among the list of the very motives for re-framing the government... signifies that to our nation's founders, the general welfare was on a par with justice, tranquility, defense and liberty.

As an underlying motive, it is not inferior in any way to those other worthy goals. Yet somehow "welfare" has been demonized by an entire major political party to the point at which almost the only time one sees it in public is in dialect limericks as a bad rhyme for "Philadelphia."

If we intend to survive as a people and as a nation, we need a government that places a great deal more emphasis on that general welfare. Mr. Rmoney's oligarchy/plutocracy is no place for a civilized people to live.

Posted by: Steve Bates | Oct 31, 2012 12:10:51 PM

It's funny, I've run into people who tell me (rightly, I think) that the Preamble isn't something you can apply in constitutional questions like you can a clause in the document's body, so the Framers clearly didn't mean the General Welfare was important, just a nice thing to say up front.

Somehow they always miss that it's part of Congress' enumerated powers in Article I, Section 8, too...which to me emphasizes just how goddamned important the concept is. It was a major reason for the Constitution to be framed in the first place, and was a necessary power for the new Republic to function and have adequate governance.

Posted by: NTodd Pritsky | Oct 31, 2012 3:01:31 PM

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