Government as Public Stage
To escape the fog that confuses our thinking about American government, we urgently need a new story about what government should do.
Citizens, the press, and politicians lack a simple, agreed-upon tool for deciding which pieces of government to keep, to change, or to discard.
We need an image--a metaphor--an analogy--a story to make sense of the fundamental reforms that most of us want...and the nation urgently needs.
Lacking a compelling story, most Americans will keep on defaulting to ideological bias, empty rhetoric, and comforting bromides.
Those on the “left”—Democrats and Socialists—fly quickly to the conclusion that more government is the solution. It isn’t big enough. It doesn’t do enough. It doesn't spend enough. Implicitly, it doesn't tax enough. It's too weak. So expand it.
Those on the “right”—mainstream Republicans, Tea Party Republicans, and Libertarians—leap immediately to the cliche that the very existence of government is the problem. It’s too big. It's too bossy. It's too costly. It's too taxing. So cut it to shreds.
Locked in mutual agreement that government’s existence, power, and size are the central issues, neither side is inclined to devote much time to addressing the most important question
In a free society, whose freedom depends both on government's doing exactly what it should and avoiding everything it should not touch, what exactly do we want government to do?
One possible pathway out of the fog is to re-imagine American government as a stage—an enduring, simple, inconspicuous, neutral stage—that creates a foundation and does not direct the action. On top of that foundation, individuals and private organizations would freely write the scripts and freely choose their own parts in the nation’s social and economic drama.
There are several advantages to treating government as a public stage upon which the drama of personal freedom unfolds. Stages endure. They are simple. They are inconspicuous. They’re in the background. Above all, they are neutral. A solid stage can equally provide the setting for Shakespeare's comic play As You Like It or Verdi's tragic opera Aida. The same stage can serve The Nutcracker or a Rolling Stones concert. Every stage provides a platform—a foundation—for lighting, costumes, and acting, singing, or dancing. But it is the playwright who writes the script, and the actors who play the parts.
Is this not what we want government to be: a lasting, strong, and neutral platform that--by guaranteeing our safety, ensuring our security, and structuring our market to make it--helps us as individuals, non-profit organizations, and for-profit businesses to choose the direction and shape of our lives, America’s culture, and the nation's economy?