President Obama delivered a commencement speech Saturday that turned into a passionate defense of the role of government in our society and, partially, the civil servants and military service members who make it run. His whole speech to the University of Michigan’s graduating class is worth reading, but here are some passages well-suited for Public Service Recognition Week:
For when our government is spoken of as some menacing, threatening foreign entity, it conveniently ignores the fact in our democracy, government is us. We, the people, hold in our hands the power to choose our leaders, change our laws, and shape our own destiny.
Government is the police officers who are here protecting us and the service men and women who are defending us abroad. Government is the roads you drove in on and the speed limits that kept you safe. Government is what ensures that mines adhere to safety standards and that oil spills are cleaned up by the companies that caused them. Government is this extraordinary public university – a place that is doing life-saving research, catalyzing economic growth, and graduating students who will change the world around them in ways big and small.
The truth is, the debate we’ve had for decades between more government and less government doesn’t really fit the times in which we live. We know that too much government can stifle competition, deprive us of choice, and burden us with debt. But we’ve also seen clearly the dangers of too little government – like when a lack of accountability on Wall Street nearly led to the collapse of our entire economy.
So what we should be asking is not whether we need a “big government” or a “small government,” but how we can create a smarter, better government. In an era of iPods and Tivo, where we have more choices than ever before, government shouldn’t try to dictate your lives. But it should give you the tools you need to succeed. Our government shouldn’t try to guarantee results, but it should guarantee a shot at opportunity for every American who’s willing to work hard.