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Role of government, for good or ill

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.: “I was born and raised in Ronald Reagan’s America.”

Associated Press

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.: “I was born and raised in Ronald Reagan’s America.”

Editor's note: Florida Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio delivered a speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library on Aug. 23 that has been widely praised by conservatives and criticized by liberals for his critique of government's role in society. Here are edited excerpts of Rubio's speech and a response, at right, from Dan Gelber of Miami Beach, the former state senator and Democratic nominee for state attorney general in 2010.

I tell people all the time that I was born and raised in Ronald Reagan's America. … Ronald Reagan's era can be defined, No. 1 in most people's mind, by the Cold War and by the end of it. And by the strong principles he stood for. … There was something else though that defined the Reagan presidency and that was defining the proper role of government. He did that better than any American has done ever before. …

I think the vast majority of Americans share a common vision for what they want our nation to be. They want our nation to be two things at the same time. No. 1: they want it to be free and prosperous, a place where your economic hopes and dreams can be accomplished and brought up to fruition. …

But they also want us to be a compassionate America, a place where people are not left behind. We are a nation that is not going to tolerate those who cannot take care of themselves being left to fend for themselves. We're not going to tolerate our children being punished for the errors of their parents and society.

So, we are a nation that aspires to two things — prosperity and compassion. And Ronald Reagan understood that. Now America's leaders during the last century set out to accomplish that, but they reached a conclusion that has placed us on this path, except for the Reagan administration to be quite frank. Both Republicans and Democrats established a role for government in America that said, yes, we'll have a free economy, but we will also have a strong government, who through regulations and taxes will control the free economy and through a series of government programs, will take care of those in our society who are falling behind.

That was a vision crafted in the 20th century by our leaders and though it was well intentioned, it was doomed to fail from the start. It was doomed to fail from the start first and foremost because it forgot that the strength of our nation begins with its people and that these programs actually weakened us as a people. You see, almost in forever, it was institutions and society that assumed the role of taking care of one another. If someone was sick in your family, you took care of them. If a neighbor met misfortune, you took care of them. You saved for your retirement and your future because you had to.

We took these things upon ourselves and our communities and our families and our homes and our churches and our synagogues. But all that changed when the government began to assume those responsibilities. All of the sudden, for an increasing number of people in our nation, it was no longer necessary to worry about saving for security because that was the government's job. For those who met misfortune, that wasn't our obligation to take care of them, that was the government's job. And as government crowded out the institutions in our society that did these things traditionally, it weakened our people in a way that undermined our ability to maintain our prosperity.

The other thing is that we built a government and its programs without any account whatsoever for how we were going to pay for it. … It was destined to fail and brought us to the point at which we are at today.

It is a startling place to be because the 20th century was not a time of decline for America, it was the American century. Americans in the 20th century built here — we built here — the richest, most prosperous nation in the history of the world. And yet today we have built for ourselves a government that not even the richest and most prosperous nation in the face of the Earth can fund or afford to pay for. An extraordinary tragic accomplishment, if you can call it that.

And that is where we stand today. … What we have now is not sustainable. We have the opportunity — within our lifetime — to actually craft a proper role for government in our nation that will allow us to come closer than any Americans have ever come to our collective vision of a nation where both prosperity and compassion exist side by side. To do that, we must begin by embracing certain principles that are absolutely true. No. 1 — the free enterprise system does not create poverty. … The free enterprise system creates prosperity, not denies it.

The second truism that we must understand is that poverty does not create our social problems, our social problems create our poverty. …

These truisms are important because they lead the public policies that define the proper role of government. On the prosperity side, the No. 1 objective of our economic policy, in fact the singular objective of our economic policy from a government perspective is simple — it's growth. It's not distribution of wealth, it's not picking winners and losers. …

Now, yes, there are people that cannot help themselves. And those folks we will always help. We are too rich and prosperous a nation to leave them to fend for themselves. But all the others that can work should be given the means of empowering themselves to enter the marketplace and the work force. And our programs and our policies should reflect that. We do need a safety net, but it cannot be a way of life. It must be there to help those who have fallen, to stand up and try again.

Role of government, for good or ill 09/07/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 7, 2011 10:56am]
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