Is it government’s job to fix economy?

President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

The economy needs to be fixed. On this, Democrats and Republicans agree. They part ways over how to do it and, specifically, what role the federal government should play.

“Ultimately,” President Barack Obama tells Congress, “our recovery will be driven not by Washington, but by our businesses and our workers. But we can help.” His argument that government has a responsibility to do so probably doesn’t sit well with an America that’s down on Washington.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and other Republicans competing for his job take a different tack as they court a tea party-infused GOP electorate: The economy will thrive, they say, if Washington simply gets out of the way. As Perry puts it: “Smaller government, less spending, fewer regulations.”

At the heart of the 2012 presidential race is an issue as old as the country itself. Is it the federal government’s responsibility to address what ails the nation, in this case the economy? And if so, to what degree? What is the right balance?

History tells us that, try as we might, we may never answer those questions; we’ve been debating them ever since the Jeffersonians and the Federalists squabbled over states’ rights vs. a strong central government. In the end, the Constitution assigned certain powers to the federal government while reserving others to states.

But the tension in America between the purely local and a far-off central government has never gone away. Nor, perhaps, should it in an ever-evolving democracy.

These days, Republicans argue for a limited government, claiming that lower taxes and less regulation will encourage job creation. Democrats advocate a more robust government, one that provides more services, pours more money into the economy and, in Obama’s case, raises taxes on the nation’s highest earners.

“We’ve been in this pattern for decades. These are the terms of our politics probably for the next generation, too,” said Charles Kesler, who teaches government at Claremont McKenna College and edited “Saving the Revolution: The Federalist Papers and the American Founding.”

Given the scripts, the question that ultimately determines who wins the presidency might be this: What do Americans want from their government?

For many, the answer is difficult to articulate.

Larry Parkin, a conservative who hosts a discussion group on the Federalist Papers with the South Pinellas 9.12 Patriots in St. Petersburg, Fla., just started collecting Social Security, which he calls a contract with the government. The 65-year-old Coast Guard retiree expects the country to secure the borders and protect the nation. Beyond that, he says: “I expect them to be less intrusive than they are. I expect them to have a limited role.”

But he struggles to identify exactly where the line between too much and too little government lies.

Ask Ashley Stilos, a liberal in Fayettville, Ark., the same question and she says one of the government’s roles is to take care of its people, adding: “Every individual should have the right to pursue happiness from an equal fighting ground, and that’s not the way it is in society.”

Is it the government’s job to make that playing field level? The 27-year-old university loan specialist says: “They have the power to make it more equal, and it’s their responsibility to do that.”

Americans’ views of government have shifted in recent years, according to an analysis of Associated Press exit polls.

In 1992, more than half of voters thought government was doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals. But by 2008, a majority, for the first time, wanted government to do more to solve the nation’s problems.

That didn’t last long after Obama took office. In quick fashion, he signed into law an economic stimulus plan and a health care system overhaul while presiding over the second installment of Wall Street bailout money.

By 2010, 56 percent of voters were back to saying that government was overreaching, while just 38 percent said government should be more active. It was the most government wary view among independents that the exit poll has recorded, with 65 percent saying government should do less, while 28 percent said it should do more.

Nowadays, people across the political spectrum seem to want very little from Washington.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll in June found that 63 percent of people think the government is doing too much, while 33 percent want it to do more. And the sentiments of independents, who typically decide close elections, generally mirrored Americans at large.

But all that could change quickly, especially if these tough times persist, with 9.1 percent unemployment, rampant foreclosures and fear of back-to-back recessions.

Against this backdrop, Obama is seeking re-election. And a 24-hour span last week showed the vastly different type of leader — and view of government — the nation will get if they choose a Republican over him.

No sooner did eight Republicans take the debate stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., than did they rail against the federal government requiring states to act a certain way, lambast Washington overreach, and argue that fewer regulations and lower taxes would compel businesses to hire again.

“They’re looking for a president that will say we’re going to lower the tax burden on you and we’re going to lower the regulation impact on you, and free them to do what they do best: create jobs,” said Perry, who has staked his candidacy on a promise to make the federal government as inconsequential as possible to people’s lives.

He and the others were posturing before a GOP electorate shaped by the tea party, whose existence can be attributed in part to a disgust by citizens over the growth of government — and federal spending — under George W. Bush, a Republican, and Obama, a Democrat.

“I believe in a lot of what the tea party believes in,” Romney said. “The tea party believes that government’s too big, taxing too much, and that we ought to get to the work of getting Americans to work.”

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann said Washington needs to stay out of education and health issues, claiming: “We have the best results when we have the private sector and when we have the family involved. We have the worst results when the federal government gets involved.” And Texas Rep. Ron Paul opposes the federal government from having any role that isn’t explicitly laid out in the Constitution.

One night later, Obama pressed Congress to immediately pass a $450 billion plan to create jobs and jolt the economy, arguing that government was at least partly responsible for fixing it, helping Americans who are hurting and upgrading the nation’s crumbling roads, bridges and schools.

“This task of making America more competitive for the long haul, that’s a job for all of us,” he said, adding: “For government and for private companies. For states and for local communities — and for every American citizen.”

He countered the pitch from conservatives and the tea party that heavily cutting government spending and eliminating a chunk of government regulations is the best solution to the economic woes, saying: “This larger notion that the only thing we can do to restore prosperity is just dismantle government, refund everybody’s money, and let everyone write their own rules, and tell everyone they’re on their own — that’s not who we are. That’s not the story of America.”

And he reached back to history to try to prove his point.

Obama argued that its workers and entrepreneurs made America’s economy great, the envy of the world. But he also noted that government was responsible for the Transcontinental Railroad, the National Academy of Sciences, the first land grant colleges, the G.I. Bill, the nation’s highway and air systems, the public school system, research that led to the Internet and the computer chip.

Americans will hear these competing visions of government for the next 14 months before casting a vote that will offer a glimpse into Americans views of the scope of government — a temporary clarity at best as the debate as old as our founding rages on.

___

Liz Sidoti, the political editor for The Associated Press, has covered national politics for the AP since 2003.

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11 Responses to "Is it government’s job to fix economy?"

  1. Sandune  September 12, 2011 at 10:28 am

    Of course when the government spends us into a critical mass of debts, then they are responsible for getting us out. It all comes down to who we put into the Congress. When will we ever learn?

  2. Carl Nemo **==  September 12, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    How can someone who’s only cleared to be a ‘community organizer’ be instrumental in orchestrating the U.S. Government to clean up not only our unemployment nightmare, but that of the government itself. Organizers of this class are only cleared to spend “grant money” while parasitizing viable taxpayers with their failed, feelgood programs.

    November 2012 can’t come soon enough in order to give this interloper and his coterie of “leftie advisers” a seaboot launch over the stern via the ballot box.

    http://obamaclock.org/

    Carl Nemo **==

  3. Bill Cravener  September 12, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    In my trades (I am knowledgeable in two) there is more work then I can handle. For those with a bachelors degree or greater the unemployment rate is something like 5.1%, if just a high school education 9.6%. Yet my state of Pennsylvania shows such little concern for educating our youth our republican governor is cutting education funding in half. Yep, keep the peasants dumb!

  4. griff  September 12, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    No, it’s the government’s job to create an atmosphere conductive to free market ideals. They have done any thing but…

  5. woody188  September 12, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    This government only seems to know how to encourage the “race to the bottom” where instead of bringing 3rd world countries up to our standards via free trade, we are lowering ourselves to their level. That’s the leveling of the playing field referred to in this article. We’ll all be migrant labor wage slaves soon.

    • Carl Nemo **==  September 12, 2011 at 9:35 pm

      Labor arbitrage is part of the globalist manifesto Woody. Perot’ warned us of such when he ran as a third party candidate in the early 90’s. He said that there would be a great “sucking sound” if NAFTA was ratified in relation to the U.S. labor market, its manufacturing base and he was right.

      I’ve read their master plan in the past, I just don’t have a current link to such. There’s a great, forced leveling process going on worldwide, their intent, to simply turn the entire planet into their soley owned plantation with desperate, fearful wage slaves marching to their offkey jody calls.

      This cabal of approximately 7500 wealthy individuals worldwide is referred to as “Deception INC.” The entire world paradigm has become a single “crooked casino” owned and operated by these characters. Candidate selection, voting even protesting is for naught. They own politicians, judges and the entire system, lock, stock and barrel. Seemingly it will take an extinctor class asteroid incoming to give the world a rest from this onslaught of usurpers who are rapaciously exploiting both the peoples of the world, but its resources too. Granted the results would be ugly for mankind, but it would allow for rebirth for the survivors and remediation for ravaged earth during the millennia post such a cataclysmic event.

      http://www.deceptionincorporated.com/

      Carl Nemo **==

  6. Tom  September 12, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    My father in law will vote for anybody with a R beside his or her name. He says that no hourly worker should be paid over $7/hr., but we should keep the millionaires wealthy since they create all the jobs. He is and ex-banker and was all for the deregulation back in the 90’s.

  7. Danny Adams  September 12, 2011 at 10:25 pm

    >>but we should keep the millionaires wealthy since they create all the jobs.<<

    Well, some of them. At the time the recession started, about 65% of jobs were created by companies employing less than 50 people. Even now it's still close to 45%. Those big corporations that so many claim are the big job engines in America do create a lot of jobs, but mostly overseas.

    As for deregulation, Tom, I wonder how your father-in-law would appreciate a deregulated electric bill.

  8. Frank Darbe  September 12, 2011 at 10:40 pm

    It is the governments job to look after the interests of its citizens. It is not in the interests of citizens to see their life savings evaporate, their homes taken, and their children plunged into abject poverty. So, yes, one of the government’s jobs is to fix the economy where it can.

    • Carl Nemo **==  September 13, 2011 at 8:37 pm

      “So, yes, one of the government’s jobs is to fix the economy where it can.” …extract from post

      Ummm, er Frank…? / : | Everything our government has done since the mid-90’s and beyond seemingly has been to destroy America, its manufacturing infrastructure, housing market, pensions, medical care etc.

      Seemingly this criminally disposed government we now have in place needs to be replaced by something that once existed post WWII to the 90’s and has since devolved into a greed driven, rapacious monster that’s out to devour all that’s dear to Americans and their way of life replacing it with a dystopian globalist model.

      Carl Nemo **==

      • William Tavinger  September 13, 2011 at 10:35 pm

        “Everything our government has done since the mid-90′s and beyond seemingly has been to destroy America, its manufacturing infrastructure, housing market, pensions, medical care etc.”

        Gee, Carl, wasn’t that about the time the Republicans took over the House AND the Senate, with Newt, and the rest of the “Free Traders” pushing their agendas?

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