In a previous post, I mentioned how the Bush Administration has turned the government away from increasing the quality of life and safety of Americans and towards a political arm of the Republican party. This point is underscored by the recent collapse of a bridge in Minnesota and a report released by the Government Accountability Office regarding the Department of Education’s policing of student loan lenders.
Those who advocate moving away from a robust central government tend to ignore the crumbling infrastructure of many of our cities. While a role for the federal government in urban renewal is a debatable idea, objections on these grounds take too narrow a view of the problem. When the federal government refuses to act on issues such as healthcare or poverty, the burden is shifted to the states. But the states are already struggling to find funding for their myriad responsibilities: when the burden is increased by lack of federal action, some responsibilities will go unfulfilled. Addressing urban infrastructure, much of which was built years ago to accommodate lesser needs, is one of the responsibilities that often gets shuffled into the future (it is hard to get funding for a new bridge when there appears to be a functioning one already there).
The government also plays a critical oversight role in our society – though it does not always fulfill that role. An education is often the cornerstone of a successful career, and our ever-modernizing society demands one for advancement in all but the most exceptional cases. As the price of college increases, more and more students are taking out substantial student loans. But, as the insider dealing between large financial companies and financial aid officers has shown, the market cannot be trusted to put the best interests of students ahead of the bottom line: only government oversight can protect students from sinking into an ever-deeper financial hole. Of course, lower income students are at more of a risk of being the victims of predatory lending practices, thereby increasing the already stark divisions between wealthy and poor in our society.
A safe society that provides equal opportunities to its citizens will not spring into life from whole-cloth. It needs to be planned, and it needs steering from a centralized government. These issues will not go away, and they will not be addressed unless we elect leaders who have the vision and skills to provide us with a functioning and effective government.
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