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Joe Biden and Tim Scott Encapsulate the Classical Right-Left Divide (Washington Examiner) May 3, 2021

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.

In their dueling speeches last week, President Joe Biden and Republican Sen. Tim Scott agreed on a few things while disagreeing on many. The headlines after Biden spoke to Congress, and Scott responded for Republicans, were mostly about expensive new government programs and racism.

Still, if you listened carefully, one of the most important debates between Biden and Scott, indeed between liberals and conservatives more broadly, is the question of how to create opportunity for people. Whether government creates opportunity, as Biden argues, or gets in the way of individual opportunity, as Scott maintains, is perhaps the fundamental political question of the day.

Biden said upfront that he was talking about “crisis and opportunity,” proposing all manner of government programs for families, jobs, infrastructure, healthcare, and education. All this will, Biden admitted, cost money. To pay the bill, he will raise taxes on the wealthy. After Ronald Reagan sought to reduce big government in the 1980s and Bill Clinton acknowledged, “the era of big government is over” in the 1990s, Biden has pronounced that big government is back. Using the crisis of the COVID pandemic to increase government power, he said we are turning “crisis into opportunity.”

It’s the classic debate between liberals and conservatives.

If you don’t know your American history — and polls and test results show you probably do not — this is the very debate that Franklin Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover had in the 1930s. Hoover, a mining engineer, had lived and worked abroad for much of his early career and, when he returned to America, he constantly preached “rugged individualism” accompanied by “equality of opportunity.” That, Hoover said, was the American system, and we ought not to give in to the various isms — socialism, fascism, communism — plaguing Europe.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, by contrast, said in a 1932 campaign speech at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, “Equality of opportunity as we have known it no longer exists.” With the closing of the American frontier and the rise of industrialization, Roosevelt called for more government regulation: “The day of enlightened administration has come.”

Lyndon Johnson and Reagan encapsulated the further struggle of these competing ideologies.

Now, the debate continues. Does the federal government really know how to create more opportunity in the lives of individuals? Is that even its role? Do the Declaration of Independence and its announcement of the right to pursue happiness mean government defines happiness or individuals? Is equality of opportunity an aspiration, as Reagan and Scott have believed, or is it reducible to a set of government programs as Johnson and, apparently, Biden believe?

Beyond the partisan bickering in Washington, the question of how best to create opportunity is well worth debating.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


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