O big/bloated/corrupt government-shunners, O bombastic, ignorant Tea partiers, O federal trough-slopping hypocrites… come on, just admit it. Didn’t we all see this week what robust public investments in health, safety, and education really look like? For those just tuning in, loss of life at the Boston Marathon was dramatically minimized on Monday because Boston’s security and medical teams and other first responders were so superbly prepared for a disaster. The EMTs knew how to use tourniquets to prevent catastrophic blood loss and were able to triage the patients expertly so that everyone got the necessary care. This saved countless lives, as we’ve all read; people were moments from death and would have died had they been languishing, even for a couple extra minutes, waiting for medical care. (Remember Princess Diana stuck in that tunnel for 30 minutes? Never woulda happened here in Boston.)
And how about those amazing teaching hospitals? I hope no one is stupid enough to think they’re the best in the world merely through the kindness of private donors. On the contrary – very much ‘on the contrary’ – Boston has top-ranked hospitals because of massive, ongoing public investments in basic and applied research, in education, and in training. (Not to mention its universities and colleges – all publicly supported to varying degrees – that feed into the medical system and, below that rung, its top-ranked K-12 schools that likewise provide the backbone of excellent labor in this city, and for visitors across the globe.) Kaching!$ It’s expensive to run such a tight ship. But the costs pay huge dividends, not only in our comparatively higher salaries and health statistics, but, as we saw this week, literally in ‘life and limb.’
Sara Palin can laugh all she wants about federal funding for fruit fly research, but how many of us would even be here today if it weren’t for our illustrious history of public investment in medical research. It’s scandalous that Congress has decimated the budgets for the National Institutes of Health. Forget obesity; this is the real silent epidemic! Imagine the consequences – decades from now – of just folding up the tent on medical research. Do we really want the soft drink industry filling the breach? (Maybe we should hedge our bets and go vegan.)
And surely the freak show at MIT and in Watertown, which I heard unfolding out my window, would likely have been much worse with a less skilled, less comprehensive response. Anyone listening in to the live police feed, as I did, would have been impressed by the professionalism of the Boston law enforcement apparatus. They were pretty cool customers.
Big government has a bad rep for some good reasons. Fine, I get it. But can we be honest for a second? What kind of government do we really want? A puny, enfeebled government? Hello, New Orleans! How do you think things would have gone down this week in one of those red states that doesn’t like to invest adequately in its people? Florida? Mississippi? Nevada? Take your pick. I’m not trying to bash other Americans, just stating facts here. We all need big government and it’s a fiction to pretend otherwise, though plenty of people do, as this handy graphic will illustrate:
According to the Tax Foundation, take a look at which states (in red) benefit from federal tax and spending policies, and which states (in blue) foot the bill.
“The report shows that of the 32 states (and the District of Columbia) that are “winners” — receiving more in federal spending than they pay in federal taxes — 17 of the 20 (85%) states receiving the most federal spending per dollar of federal taxes paid are Red States.”
But I don’t want to get too political about this. It’s a human issue, not a conservative or liberal one. It’s not about red states and blue states. It doesn’t have to be. All societies need public investments to spur growth. And in case we need a reminder, our handy constitution tells us so:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America (emphasis, mine).
It’s right there, but we get so focused on the personal liberty stuff that we sometimes forget the “general welfare” and “common defense” parts of the equation.
But Bostonians didn’t forget, not this week. Not our doctors and nurses and emergency responders. Not the Marathon organizers. Not the runners. Not the patients in their hospital beds who woke up surprised to be alive, not dead. Not my frightened students who were hunkered down all night with their laptops and phones, checking the latest developments.
“We the people” is so much more than a call for individual freedom. It’s a reminder that where liberty is concerned, the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts. Some of our most prized freedoms are supported by the scaffolding of government. It’s awfully nice to stand on a soap box, like our spineless politicians did earlier this week, and shun the trappings of big government.
Some of us don’t have that luxury.