In his first inaugural, President Ronald Reagan delivered his guiding principle, "Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem." But just because he said it with an air of certainty, that does not make it true.
Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform, describes his ideal citizen as "a self-employed, homeschooling, IRA [Individual Retirement Account]-owning guy with a concealed-carry permit because that person doesn't need the goddamn government for anything."
Norquist speaks with none of Reagan's charm, but he is also describing folks who proudly claim membership in the same Leave Us Alone coalition.
Leave Us Alone sounds good in theory, but before buying into this view of American individual-ism, a few questions need to be asked—and answered.
If not the government, who provides and pays for a well-trained, well-disciplined police force?
When polluters say the water is safe to drink, do we just trust their word?
Should we feel protected when agribusiness assures us the food is safe and nutritious, or might we be more secure if inspectors take a look?
Would we sleep better if the Securities and Exchange Commission did not regulate financial markets and the Federal Aviation Administration wasn't there to control pilots and planes?
Is it too much regulation when inspectors make sure that bridges won't fall into the river and tunnels won't collapse?
Is the money we put in the bank safe and will we get it back?
Leave Us Alone proponents seem to think it is just fine to have an economy where, year in and year out, the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the middle class is being reconfigured into the working poor. Leave Us Alone proponents assume they will always be among society's winners, never victims of circumstances over which they cannot possibly have personal control.
What Norquist in his negative view of the perfect American has lost is any sense of community and country. Nothing in what he says brings out what Thomas Jefferson called our better angels.
America is the land of opportunity only if everyone has equal access to those opportunities, and not just those who can afford private education, infrastructure and private security.
We need government in order to make the best use of resources for all of us. Leave Us Alone means the end of American exceptionalism and the American dream, and makes America just an-other banana republic.