Liberals don’t see the problems; Conservatives, the promise


Cross-posted from

Recently, I saw a bumper sticker that said, “When the government gives you something, they take something away from someone else.” “Wow”, I thought. “What a cynical way to look at the common good.” Why not view it as “when the government gives you something, it is really your neighbor giving you a helping hand”? The government is after all, nothing more or less than all of us.

And yet, the GOP has managed to convince many Americans that as Ronald Reagan said, “government is not the solution of our problem; government is the problem” and Grover Nordquist said, he wanted to “shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

There are however, a multitude of functions that can only be effectively and fairly provided by government. There are many examples of this such as national defense and public education, but basically, I think the primary role of government is to provide for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. William Weld, a former Republican governor of Massachusetts, wrote that,

“Liberals often don’t see the problems, and conservatives don’t see the promise, of government.”

I certainly can’t speak for all liberals, (which literally, is not a four letter word oh by the way), but I think I’m fairly clear-eyed about some of the problems of government. But…I haven’t found many Conservatives who will admit to the essential good that government can provide. Yes, government is not perfect. It tends to be bureaucratic and inefficient. But…if we the people, do our one main job (voting) correctly, we elect those who will make it the best it can be.

Weld’s circa 2000 article talks about the role of government to act as a check on corporate greed that doesn’t serve the greater good, to protect the environment, and to as Lincoln said, “appeal to the better angels of our nature.” Weld noted that, “Oliver Wendell Holmes once said that the desire to exclude other people from your circle and surround yourself with people just like yourself is a perfectly natural human phenomenon.”

That natural tendency though argued Weld, must be “guarded against and restrained.” He added that,

“Government can contribute to a shared sense of purpose on the part of the citizenry; that’s its highest and best application.”

This role to contribute to a “shared sense of purpose”, is I believe the biggest failure of President Trump. Not only has he not appealed to our “better angels”; he has stoked the fires of division and then continually turned up the heat. Whether race-baiting, declaring himself a nationalist, declaring the press the “enemy of the people”, or working to reduce people’s trust in our nations’ institutions, he continues to appeal to the lowest common denominators of hate and fear. And, unfortunately, GOP leadership has pretty much been “lock-step” with him.

In an article published two days ago on, Jim Sleeper,a lecturer at Yale and author of two books on liberalism and race wrote,

“Yet Aristotle was right to warn that humans who lose the art and discipline of “the political” become lower than beasts. When conservatism talks about the sanctity of property and, at the same time, about the dangers of materialism and of public-deficit financing, both of which it pursues to strengthen plutocrats and to bankrupt Social Security, public education and health care, it opens the vacuum to Trumpian malevolence and corruption. Its “pre-political” anti-politics subverts its own professed ideals of republican self-governance, which should reinforce mutual trust, not dog-eat-dog competition and empty salvific, decadent and scapegoating escapes. But what they didn’t do – what we need to do most now – is to stop the disease of turbo-marketing from dissolving the republic that has given its insurgents enough breathing room and footholds to transcend even themselves.”

If we are to change the narrative, the Democrats in Congress now must, (as my wife had hoped to do in the Arizona Legislature), prove that government CAN work for the people. It CAN function well to ensure the people’s needs are addressed. That, rather than investigations and committee hearings, will speak loudest to the American people.


  1. I thank Linda Lyon for the link to my Salon post about the loss of civic-republican Republicans. Since I mention some of from my home state of Massachusetts in that post, I should also have mentioned our former Governor Bill Weld, although his Libertarian Party run for president didn’t thrill me.

    I should certainly have credited civic-republican Arizonans, such as Sandra Day O’Connor, and — in his better moments — John McCain, whose civic-republican side I sketched briefly in this Washington Monthly piece a few days after he voted against repealing Obamacare:
    Thanks again for your reflections and your dedication.
    Jim Sleeper

  2. “There are however, a multitude of functions that can only be effectively and fairly provided by government. There are many examples of this such as national defense and PUBLIC EDUCATION (emphasis mine)…”

    Tell that to the nuns, brothers and lay teachers in parochial schools who gave me and millions of others stellar educations and who still do so. I think you should rethink that position.

    (Having benefited from the sacrifices and diligent work of parochial school teachers, I am a bit sensitive to unjust criticism directed towards them.)

    • Anyone reviewing the last couple of years of comments you’ve made on this website would disagree that you have benefitted from your “EDUCATION”.

      Emphasis mine.

      You are the SB1070 guy who cost this state 2 billion dollars with your hate and racism. You are the corrupt politician who give your overlords at GEO a million dollars of taxpayer money they did nothing to earn.

      I really wish you would think things through, you continue to embarrass this beautiful state.

      Everyone can read what you post. Please stop. I need my property values to go up, not down.

    • And when you say “the sacrifices” you realize that you are admitting that teachers are underpaid.

      Think, Johnny, think before you post, please. Words have meanings.

      • Yeah, I went to Catholic schools for 12 years back in Jacksonville, Florida.

        We had Dominican nuns in grammar school (grades 1-8) and they were, for the most part, very good educators.

        They all lived in the convent that was on the church premises, they didn’t get paid although they had walking around money, they hardly went anywhere and they had this one station wagon for transportation for the whole convent. They were rotated every few years to a different parish probably to keep them from losing their minds.

        • Your nuns signed up for that, and I’ll bet it’s very fulfilling work.

          I wanted to be a teacher when I was in school, and took all of one class on teaching, it was awesome, I tutored a kid from D’s to B’s in two weeks. He was thrilled and it felt great to make a difference.

          And then I found out what teachers are paid and that ended that dream. I have nothing but respect for those folks and think we should pay them like doctors.

          My problem with Kavanagh’s comment is that he seems to be saying that we don’t need government to teach kids because nuns will do it for cheap.

          He’s stating openly that some people are entitled to the sacrifice of others.

          And he seems to have missed the entire point of Linda Lyon’s post.


          • “He’s stating openly that some people are entitled to the sacrifice of others.”

            That’s how they built America. And some folks can’t seem to let go of that.

  3. The immediate problem facing those who wish to preserve a democratic form of government is protecting every citizens right to vote. In Tuesday’s election we have once again seen the drastic effects of GOP corruption and voter suppression.

    Democrats and others who do not support conservatives clearly outnumber the white supremacists. In fact, “white supremacist” is a far better term than Republican or “conservative” because it labels these people for exactly what they are.

    But Democrats cannot keep hoping to win elections by outnumbering the white supremacists at such levels that they can overcome GOP voter suppression and disenfranchisement strategies in red/purple states, gerrymandering, their dirty and dishonest campaigns bankrolled by billionaires who own them, and so forth…

    It’s just too damn much to overcome and it’s time to raise hell until this is fixed.

    Right now the GOP is crying foul to distract from their own shenanigans. And it seems to be working in MSM. I don’t hear anyone talking anymore about Brian Kemp purging 1.5 million voters in Georgia over 4 years. All these GOP liars (including Trump) have to do is point a finger and MSM goes chasing in that direction.

    In a democracy, voting is everything.

    The people who voted for Trump (all 63 million) and those who still support him should not be coddled, enlightened, convinced, loved, understood, or forgiven. They were willing to set fire to their country rather than embrace the changing demographics of the nation and learn how to share or at least keep their mouths shut while better people lead. It’s time to acknowledge that many of them are just simply bad people.

    I’ve been around awhile and I cannot be convinced otherwise, that these are bad people. But the good news is that they are the minority.

    And here’s another point I wish to make regarding how Trump’s white supremacists feel about government. I, for one, don’t give a damn how they feel about government. And I don’t think it matters all that much. Again, we fight for the right of every citizen to vote and have that vote counted. That’s how we win.

    And I will guarantee you that those folks who hate government will like it just fine every time they need it. Have you heard about any of those rednecks in the Florida panhandle refusing government assistance after they got wiped out in the hurricane a couple of months ago? Nope, didn’t think so.

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