A few weeks ago, in his second inaugural speech, President Barack Obama waded into the longest-running argument our history offers. “Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time,” he said, “but it does require us to act in our time.”
He had just laid out a rationale for government action on infrastructure, protecting the security and dignity of people, climate change, inequality, the strength of arms and the rule of law. Even though he also spoke about limiting government’s reach, replacing outmoded programs and reforming its shortcomings, liberals saw the speech as a call to arms, while conservatives cringed.
However you responded, though, there’s one point I suspect we could all agree on: this is not a question we’ll ever settle. After more than two centuries of discord over the proper role of government, the only consensus we’ve been able to arrive at as a nation is a consensus not to have a consensus.