A recent letter writer quoted Ronald Reagan to belittle the role of government. I prefer the words of our first and greatest Republican president, Abraham Lincoln. Speaking at Gettysburg, he argued that the Civil War was to protect the principle of a government "of the people, by the people and for the people." The framers of our Constitution designed a government to form "a more perfect union" to protect our freedoms and to help us individually and collectively achieve our full potential. Such a government is indispensable in this age.
To be sure, we must be wary of those who would use their economic power to distort the government to serve their needs. Another memorable Republican president, Theodore Roosevelt, spoke to this a little over a century ago. Warning that "the great special business interests too often control and corrupt the men and methods of government for their own profit," he called for governmental regulation when wealth sought to distort the purpose of government. Especially relevant today is his assertion that "laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws should be thoroughly enforced. Corporate expenditures for political purposes, and especially such expenditures by public-service corporations, have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs." [Aug. 31, 1910].
In this pivotal presidential election year, we must call forth our intelligence and active citizenship to insure that we maintain the government which Abraham Lincoln envisioned and avoid the threats that Theodore Roosevelt outlined. The myths of "trickle down" economics and the personhood of corporations demand rejection. The call for positive steps to rebuild our economy and undergird the opportunities of the middle and working classes deserves support.
Morse-Alumni Distinguished Teaching Professor of History Emeritus, University of Minnesota, Morris