Some things never change.
It was forty-two years ago this month when President Ronald Reagan, wearing formal morning attire, addressed the nation for the first time from the western front of the United States Capitol.
“In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem,” the new president stated firmly. “Government is the problem.”
So began eight years of Mr. Reagan’s consequential tenure as chief executive, during which time he regularly championed limited government and the belief that “government doesn’t solve problems – it subsidizes them.”
According to the results of a Gallup poll released just this past week, Americans agree, citing government as the top problem facing our country, ahead of inflation, illegal immigration, and the economy. Both Republicans and Democrats agree, though more on the right prioritized government as the top concern than Democrats. In issuing the report, Gallup notes, “Americans’ mentions of the government as the nation’s most important problem have risen significantly in the past month, while inflation remains the next most-cited issue.”
Ronald Reagan, always ready with a quip, seemed to be echoing American sentiment then and now, when he once stated during a press conference, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’”
Students of history acknowledge that the size of government has grown with each passing year. What is often proposed as a temporary solution soon becomes permanent. After all, once a “benefit” is extended, it’s very difficult to roll it back. Uncle Sam employs more people than all American manufacturers combined. Welfare spending continues to explode. Over the course of the last twenty-five years, the federal government has allocated $2.5 trillion to individuals and state programs.
It would be easy to chalk up the explosion of government largesse to good intentions gone awry or even flat out incompetence and irresponsibility. It was the late satirist P.J. O’Rourke who said giving money and the authority to spend it is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.
But the problem goes much deeper than that.
From our Christian perspective, at the heart of the “government problem” is the corruption of its intended use. Scripture suggests God intends for government to be used to help preserve and maintain order.
Dr. Al Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, has previously noted, “Government has a legitimate purpose. And among those purposes is the establishment and maintenance of justice and righteousness and the protection of human life. The most important responsibility of any government is the protection of the lives of its own citizens.”
The apostle Paul makes clear we’re to obey governing authorities – but “there is no authority except that which God has established” (Romans 13:1).
It should also be noted that an increasingly secular society regularly usurps the role of churches and charities, which then leads to the explosion of welfare funding. And while some may intend for the money to help meet legitimate needs, it’s undeniable that others see it as a tool to curry favor with certain voters and leverage it to cultivate a spirit of dependence on Big Brother.
The Gallup survey only asks Americans to identify problems, and while there may be some consensus on the results, there’s much less agreement on the solutions. At the same time, it cannot be merely coincidental that as Americans’ belief in God has gone down, our nation’s social problems have only gone up. The answers may be many – but none greater than the need for a spiritual revival, and to quote Charles Finney, “nothing else than a new beginning of obedience to God.”