Food For Thought

Big Government:

Who Needs It? We Do!

by Dr. John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D., Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

John Bonfadini

Long ago, when families lived miles apart, traveling often provided significant time in a world of solitude. There were no talk radio shows or iPods with a thousand songs blaring through stereo radios. If you wanted music you had to sing or listen to the birds.

Those were the days when the Constitution was formed. I don’t think the founders ever envisioned today’s world, where many families share a common wall with neighbors and traveling is done in a sea of noise pollution. A few centuries back, individuals provided for themselves. They grew their own food. There was no need for labeling, and listing nutritional information: Proper diet was instinctive. Food was not processed and things like milk came directly from the source, harvested by hand.

I’ve just eaten yogurt with more information on the container’s side than I probably want or need. As seniors, we eat out more than I like and Sunday dinner usually (if we have one) is interrupted by the NFL, NBA, PGA, and recreation in general. Sunday church is a thing of the past. We go on Saturday evenings.

Only a few decades ago we had something called “blue laws.” Stores were closed on Sundays. Johnny Cash’s song “Sunday Morning Coming Down” talks about something special in a Sunday. At first I wanted to say it just didn’t fit today’s world, but listening to the lyrics (on YOUTUBE again), it may fit more than I think. Sunday is like every other day … nothing special about it. So without going on and on about change, I think we can all agree things are very different than they were years ago.

So you ask, “What’s this got to do with the need for big government?” The answer is simple — complexity. The borders between towns, counties, states, and nations continue to dissolve like the individual grains of a sugar cube in a cup of coffee at Starbucks. The simple black coffee that cowboys brewed has changed into complex concoctions attempting to satisfy the many taste buds of a variety of consumers. Government is trying to do the same thing by expanding to meet the needs of an expanding population.

It’s fashionable to say I don’t want government telling me what to do, but the actions of law-making agencies across this country reflect a different trend. Everyone and every organization is asking government to enact laws on a multitude of subjects. Just look at the legislation introduced in these bodies. If you’re a member of a governing body and don’t have your name plastered all over a number of bills, your opponents will accuse you of doing nothing. The average number of bills introduced each year in Congress numbers around 11,000. Every organization wants something from government. Just look at the number of lobbyists. I’m sure most of you belong to some organization that is working on your behalf. Don’t say no, because if you get this magazine, the cooperatives have lobbyists at both the state and national levels.

I frequently drive on Interstate 66. I can’t imagine what would happen if we didn’t have laws governing that travel. It would be nice if everyone was kind enough to respect the rights of other drivers, but I know that’s never going to happen. I want more government control over speed, vehicle safety, HOV lanes and people talking and texting on phones. I want the government to build more roads and make them safer. I don’t want any driver on the road with an old clunker that hasn’t had the brakes inspected. I want the government to make sure all vehicles are safe.

Cell phones, computers, television, and other electronic media have increased the speed of communications. Sorry to say that the quality of all that communication doesn’t deserve that much speed. As a society we’d probably be better off if news went through a few more filters before it hit the airways. When something newsworthy happens, it’s known around the world in a matter of minutes … tweet, tweet!

Technology creates the need for more laws and more government. We are no longer isolated from what’s happening in the rest of the world. Minor conflicts of the past become major issues in today’s world. Economically, financially, militarily, and socially, there is far more interaction with other nations today than just a few decades ago, and this, too, requires more government.

Our desire to live in a clean and safe environment creates the need for laws to keep rivers and streams clean. We carry more diseases across international borders with increased travel. Today’s medical technology requires more rules for procedures, drugs, personnel, and other considerations, including ethics. Who’s going to develop and administer all these laws and rules? You got it — the government. In education, we want national standards for students and educators. The list can go on and on, but by now you’re getting my point — big government is a necessity.

Just because something is big doesn’t mean it’s bad. The quality of the item is what’s important, big or small. Quality begins with the people who are elected and employed by us (WE, THE PEOPLE) to form and operate this thing we call government, large or small. We should concentrate more on quality, rather than just focusing on size. Smaller doesn’t mean better. I pulled up behind an SUV with a political sticker that read, “Vote for Mr. X and get less government and more freedom.” That seems to be a recurring theme among all non-incumbent politicians. None of them ever say they want their position eliminated. Maybe that’s what we need to do, make Congress smaller. Do we really need all those elected people in all levels of government? They don’t seem to be able to get along or accomplish very much. Maybe the family is just too big.

I’m not quite sure about the size of government, but I am sure that those who are elected are staying too long. I believe it’s time for term limits at all levels of government. The 22nd amendment to the Constitution limits the term of the president to two terms or 10 years. I think Congress should be limited to a specific number of terms. In a world so complex that little if anything can be agreed upon, term limits may be the only way to get some compromise on issues. If it’s good enough for the president, it should be good enough for all others.

Big government is here to stay. We need to concentrate on making it a quality government capable of handling more complex issues at greater speed. The number and complexity of issues requiring legislation is not going to decrease. The ideal government of the future will be significantly different from what we have today. We need to start thinking  about the future and quit dwelling on the “good old days.”

Whats Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor. Mail will be forwarded to the author.




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