It’s an old cliche among my more conservative acquaintances that the scariest sentence on the planet is “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” I’ve never seen things that way, and I suppose I owe that to my father. He was no political revolutionary, by any means, and his experience with “government” consisted of simply trying to be an informed voter. He belonged to a union, and in his younger days did try to serve the union a bit, but he tired of it pretty rapidly. He never wanted to speak for other people. He wanted people “smarter” than him to do all the governing; he wasn’t a fervent individualist seeking endless personal freedoms, although he really did think it was best that the government should stay out of most peoples’ business.
He was proud that he managed to vote for Franklin Roosevelt once before he died. He firmly believed that it was the role of the government to help people; why else would we bother having one? He grew up across the tail end of the Great Depression and really felt that most of the New Deal ideas were good, especially social security. He would have cringed at the thought that wanting social programs, like Head Start and funding for community colleges and public libraries made him a socialist. He was completely fine with the idea of government as an employer of last resort— programs like the WPA built the majority of the infrastructure in this country, and funding that was not what he would have called “socialism.” I suppose the older I get, especially after having studied the New Deal pretty intensely for a time, the more I become like my father. I suppose you could label me a Roosevelt democrat.
When the FSA people showed up in migrant camps and said that they were from the government, there wasn’t the general aura of suspicion we have today. I wish that we could go back to that. Governments are instituted by people to serve people, and it seems weird to me that currently the libertarian and conservative factions find it their job to completely dismantle what protections we do have against the raging capitalist storm that engulfs us. I’m not convinced that capitalism is completely bad, but I do believe that there needs to be a system of checks and balances in place to keep our air breathable, and our roads and services safe. In short, government should help people.
Researching the early days of the socialist movement in the UK (through William Morris) and listening to the rants of the current crop of libertarians, over and over the chants of revolution seem to be the common core. There is no use for incremental change, all change must be revolutionary. My father wouldn’t have agreed, and I don’t think I do either. Opting out of the system, subscribing to “individualist anarchism” or “tea party conservatism” seems like the quickest way to have zero constructive impact on the world. The system which surrounds us may be a large and uncomfortable ship, but jumping overboard really doesn’t seem to me to be a solution.
Apologies for the rant, but as I thread through the writing of many smart people who claim that opting out is the only solution (both contemporary and historical), I feel the need to affirm my desire to be warm and safe in the ship of state.