After holding various political offices for 22 years, former Governor John Kitzhaber recently said he sees an “apparent inability of our public institutions to deal in a timely and effective manner with the problems confronting us as a nation and as a society.” Kitzhaber called for even more citizen involvement as a way to bring people together on key public issues.
We would be headed in a positive direction if he meant individuals and organizations acting in private, voluntary concert to make Oregon and the U.S. a better place to live. Unfortunately, what he really advocates is more public meetings, more dialog, and more so-called public process than Oregon already has.
“We are not talking about compelled behavior here,” Kitzhaber said. “We are talking about people coming together because they care….” However, government is virtually synonymous with compelled behavior. Quoting George Washington, “Government is not eloquence, it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” Force to achieve social goals may be necessary when it comes to protecting our lives and property from criminals, foreign armies and terrorists, but it should not be a part of our everyday peaceful lives.
Think Salvation Army. Think Nature Conservancy. People can and do voluntarily “come together because they care.” But, volunteerism stops and compulsion begins when people get together and their beliefs become codified in law. This is a distinction worth remembering.
© 2006, Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Cascade Policy Institute are cited. Contact Cascade at (503) 242-0900 to arrange print or broadcast interviews on this topic. For more topics visit the QuickPoint! archive.