It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who reads this blog to hear me say I’m an Obama supporter. So we’ll skip all that, and instead I’ll just say that I was fairly unimpressed with Obama’s performance in the debate earlier tonight — I think he was trying to appear above the fray, but just came off as distracted and wandering. To an undecided voter, I think it looks like Romney won: he was more focused, more on point, more… potentially flippant with his facts (that’s another story). Time for Barry to step up his game.
BUT. I thought the complete opposite about their answers to Lehrer’s “what is the role of the federal government” question. Here’s Obama:
The first role of the federal government is to keep the American people safe … But I also believe that … the federal government has the capacity to help open up opportunity and create ladders of opportunity and to create frameworks where the American people can succeed …
In the middle of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln said, let’s help to finance the Transcontinental Railroad. Let’s start the National Academy of Sciences. Let’s start land grant colleges, because we want to give these gateways of opportunity for all Americans, because if all Americans are getting opportunity, we’re all going to be better off …
That is the kind of investment where the federal government can help. It can’t do it all, but it can make a difference.
The role of government is to promote and protect the principles of [the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence]. First, life and liberty. We have a responsibility to protect the lives and liberties of our people, and that means the military, second to none …
Second, in that line that says, we are endowed by our Creator with our … right to pursue happiness as we choose. I interpret that as, one, making sure that those people who are less fortunate and can’t care for themselves are cared by — by one another.
We’re a nation that believes we’re all children of the same God. And we care for those that have difficulties — those that are elderly and have problems and challenges, those that disabled, we care for them …
But we also believe in maintaining for individuals the right to pursue their dreams, and not to have the government substitute itself for the rights of free individuals.
There we have it: Liberalism v. Conservatism. Not quite in a nutshell, but the idea, presented by Obama, that government is around to guide the country’s investments in order to maximize social wellbeing while maintaining a healthy sense of competition and opportunity, versus Romney’s we-all-look-out-for-each-other optimistic 1950s-suburban-America kumbaya.
I believe the government should be there when that lovely sense of neighborly in-it-togetherness fails. Maybe I’m a pessimist. Maybe that just makes me a traditional liberal. But I think part of keeping the American people safe, part of protecting life and liberty, is investing in structures, institutions, and programs that are there for the intangible disasters our military can’t fight off.
I want social freedom and fiscal regulation. I feel like many conservatives (sorry, blanket generalization here) want social regulation and fiscal freedom. What we both agree on, it seems, is that government exists primarily to protect the people it watches over. People, then, take this to mean different things — protect us from terrorism, protect us from poverty, protect us from nuclear armageddon, protect us from China, protect us from fiscal evils, protect us from social sins, protect us from bankers, protect us from stem cells, protect us from the gays… Some are more ridiculous boogeymen then others.
Ultimately, everyone looks for a leader who wants to safeguard the same things he or she holds dear.
I hold dear — perhaps most dear — the future. Progress. Progressivism. Investing in infrastructure, education, social welfare for myself and others.
I think Obama’s answer nailed that. (One of the few times I can say that, this debate.) Romney’s left me wondering what the federal government is here to do besides stockpile guns and planes. But there are things equally — if not more — frightening and insidious than military attacks out there, and if the federal government isn’t here to protect us from those specters and phantoms, well, I simply don’t think it’s delivering on its primary function: security. Security of our past, our history, our heritage; security of our present, our borders, our people; and security of our future, our hopes, and our dreams.