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Obama v. Romney: Two Radically Different Visions Of America's Future

We've got a stark choice: do we improve the systems that have made us rich and powerful in the past? Or do we tear them down in the name of "freedom," and hope for the best?

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But the health and education of Americans are not individual concerns at all. First, the individual cannot acquire these without communal efforts. Second, we depend on the health and education of our fellow citizens, as well as our own health and education.

Individual health is a prime example of public protection. It is maintained not only via health care (for those who can afford to buy their health), it further depends on a range of preventative needs that are secured via public provisions - disease control, environmental protection, food control, the sewer system and clean drinking water, to name some. Every American depends on these provisions. Being healthy starts with being protected from disease, poisonous products and pollution. The public - our commonly financed protection system - keeps you safe and healthy via these means of preventing disease. Furthermore, it is de facto not the case that only your own health concerns you. If you are a business owner, you want your employees to fall sick as little as possible. And if they do get ill, it is in your interest that they get effective treatment - because they are profit creators in your business, you need them to be healthy, and if you care about them, you want them to be healthy.

Education, on the other hand, is a prime example of public empowerment. If you want to start a business or expand a business you already run, you will need to have access to educated employees. You do not pay for their education by yourself. You contributed to it via paying your fair share in taxes, together with your fellow citizens. You depend on educated doctors, lawyers and engineers. Finally, the public provision of information - from access to the Internet to libraries and records to educational training - empowers you as an individual to thrive and succeed.

The notion of fair taxation is based on three ideals: First, taxes are a way to reimburse the community for what it has provided beforehand. This is about reciprocity. Second, taxes are a way to maintain freedom in America, by financing the system that allows the individual to flourish. Third, taxes have a moral function. Democracy is based on caring about one's fellow citizens, which requires maintaining high standards for humane treatment of our fellow Americans. This is about moral excellence. Some of our fellow citizens face more hardship than others, and it is simply right for all of us who constitute the public to guarantee humane treatment for all.

Extreme conservatives have a different morality. For them, democracy provides the liberty to pursue one's own self-interest and well-being without much responsibility for the interests or well-being of others. For them, individual responsibility is paramount.

As a result, they neglect the crucial role of the public for our freedom, private enterprise and decent private lives.

Mitt Romney and other conservatives did not understand what the president was saying about the public. Or, if they did, they made it their mission to misportray Obama's ideals. First of all, they singled out the president's statement, "If you've got a business - you did not build that," claiming that the "that" in the statement refers to the business, not the public provisions. This is simply dirty politics.

But aside from this, it is interesting to see the conservative response. Here is Romney: "Do we believe in an America that is great because of government, or do we believe in an America that's great because of free people allowed to pursue their dreams and build their future?"

Romney makes a distinction between government and the people. This is a common conservative argument and it has to do with the fact that conservatives want as little protection and empowerment through commonly financed and organized provisions as possible. What Romney's statement neglects is the fact that maintaining public provisions is not a matter of the government versus the people. The public came about because "free people" decided to come together and organize a public system that allows them to "pursue their dreams and build their future."

 
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