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In defense of government

If only Nevada had an Elizabeth Warren running for office.

Instead of say, Democrat Kate Marshall — who ran a Republican campaign in a Republican district and lost by 22 points to a Republican — Warren isn’t afraid to defend the idea of government.

“You built a factory out there? Good for you,” she said recently in remarks that have delighted lefties nationwide. “But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.

“Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

The speech clearly annoyed Rush Limbaugh, who reminded his listeners that the people who built those roads, and made the police cars and fire trucks, and constructed the factory were all in the private sector. Government has no money that it first hasn’t taken out of the private economy by taxation, he said.

But rather than undercutting Warren’s point, Limbaugh actually makes it: The private sector creates jobs and wealth, and the government takes a portion of that wealth to do things that benefit everybody. And we could not have one without the other.

Elemental? Perhaps, but listening to Republican presidential candidates debate on Thursday night, it seemed none had any use for government. Rep. Michele Bachmann said people were entitled to keep 100 percent of their earnings, before quickly contradicting herself by adding, “Obviously, we have to give money back to the government so we can run the government.”

Obviously? Not really: According to the assembled candidates, government can’t run education, negotiate with public employee unions, promulgate environmental regulations, spur creation of green energy technology, run a tax system, protect the border with Mexico, run Social Security or distribute foreign aid properly.

About the only thing the candidates seemed to agree the government could do was kill people, either in foreign lands or in state execution chambers, and there wasn’t even unanimous agreement on that. (Although it was bizarre to see Texas Gov. Rick Perry gamely deliver the line “I erred on the side of life. I will always err on the side of life,” after investigative reporting showed an inmate executed under Perry’s administration in 2004 may have been innocent.)

After all the bashing of government, President Barack Obama and public employees, it’s probably not surprising we have more Kate Marshalls than Elizabeth Warrens. It’s tough to speak up for government when you read in the newspaper that somebody paid $16 for a muffin at a Justice Department conference (and no, it wasn’t even at a McCarran International Airport concession!).

But somebody has to do it, if for no other reason than this: The government has always been a force in American economic life, and it always will be. An unregulated “free market” has never existed.

Politically, it’s just crazy enough to work: In Nevada, Democrats who run statewide on Democratic platforms tend to win, even if only in Washoe and Clark counties. (Think Harry Reid last year and Obama in 2008.) By contrast, conservadems who run on anti-tax, GOP-light platforms (Marshall, in this year’s special congressional election, or Rory Reid in 2010) tend to lose, and by decisive margins.

Maybe the era of big government isn’t over after all?


Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/SteveSebelius or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or at ssebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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