I have spoken about the three challenges to living in a democratic republic: understanding government; debating taxes; and engaging in civil discourse. Paying attention to these challenges is important. Understanding them is even more so.
In recent years, right-wing conservatives have given a very dramatic, anti-government twist to our country. It's more than just disagreeing with a policy or two. It has to do with believing most government is too big, or too invasive or too expensive and, in the end, irrelevant and unnecessary. I've heard both local and national commentators engage in blatant revisionism. They generate ideas that suggest our government makes no contribution (and never has) to the national welfare, except perhaps for defense. All of the accomplishments of this great nation (according to conservative revisionists) can be attributed to the work of a few entrepreneurs and big businesses. Government made no contribution.
That's wrong, myopic, and dangerous; perhaps even self-serving. If this were true, these folks would only have themselves to worry about, no infrastructure/social/educational institutional concerns, would have no responsibility for the less fortunate; they could keep all that they made. They wouldn't have to be appalled about seeing their money "redistributed" to those whom they hold in such low regard. (Romney's 47 percent) But that's not how a democratic republic works.
Fortunately, all taxation represents some form of redistribution. Without taxes, all wealth would be concentrated among the few most powerful. Not a pretty picture for the middle class. Taxes are always worth debating. But we should be willing to pay taxes for what serves our country and its citizens. Signing "no new tax pledges" is reprehensible and is the key for advancing anti-government hatred. Beware.
Just a word to these "revisionists." We would not be the most powerful, richest, most productive nation in the world without constitutional protections, the rule of law, regulatory protections, a publicly well-educated workforce (hopefully improving our public schools to remain competitive), trade policies, guaranteed freedoms for citizens, and a comprehensive system of social safety net-protections for the disabled, the elderly, the unemployed and the disenfranchised. All of these government provisions make our great nation truly remarkable. Take any of these provisions away and you risk disabling it.
Big business and entrepreneurship are not the cause of this greatness. They are a result of a constitutionally derived democratic republic which works with government. Big business and entrepreneurship cannot survive in the long run without strong, well-run government institutions.
For those who believe they are not anti-government but rather are just trying to make government smaller and more efficient, I suggest they examine the assumptions underlying their actions. I believe their assumptions are based on "conservative" principles, articulated/ promulgated by "scholars" such as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin and a little bit of Rudy Giuliani. There's not a teaspoon of real conservative "scholarship" among this Tea Party package. To base national policy decisions on the inarticulate ramblings of this incoherent group of marginal entertainers is dangerous.
I am persuaded by the logic of New York Times columnist and conservative scholar David Brooks. To paraphrase a comment Mr. Brooks made last week on Meet the Press, "... the country's problems will get solved when the two parties get ready to go over the fiscal cliff, when the people force legislators to agree on increased revenue (tax increases), dramatic budget cuts (including military), and substantial modifications to entitlements."
It's more complicated than this simple formulation. And it will take time and elected officials who can work together to make hard decisions. But our government system has the capacity to make this happen. Nothing less will do.
• Eugene T. Paslov is a board member of the Davidson Academy at the University of Nevada, Reno, and the former Nevada state superintendent of schools.