Early 2013 Features Passionate Speeches in Defense of Government

By, Elaine Mejia, Senior Program Associate

president_official_portrait_hiresThe first two months of the year can be cold and dreary—and yet, at Public Works we’ve noticed some bright light shining through. One could argue that January should be declared “Role of Government” Month. In the first month of the year, elected officials participate in time-honored democratic traditions—swearing-in ceremonies, inaugural addresses, State of the State speeches, the opening of offices to constituent visits, and so on. The rhetoric of the season typically includes references to great moments in American history, lofty aspirations for the future AND an articulation of the role government can and should play in making that future a reality. Here are highlights from four of our favorite speeches from prominent elected officials so far this year.

1) Starting from the top, President Obama’s inauguration speech was largely hailed as a strong, almost aggressive, defense of government. The speech included some compelling statements about government in general such as:

“Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time — but it does require us to act in our time.


Together we determined that a modern economy requires railroads and highways to speed travel and commerce, schools and colleges to train our workers. Together we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play. Together we resolve that a great nation must care for the vulnerable and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune.

Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all society’s ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise, our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, these are constants in our character.”

It also included strong language in favor of more specific government programs, in particular this eloquent and effective defense of the role of Social Security and Medicare:

“But we reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future.

For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky or happiness for the few. We recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us at any time may face a job loss or a sudden illness or a home swept away in a terrible storm. The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative. They strengthen us.

They do not make us a nation of takers. They free us to take the risks that make this country great.”

President Obama laid out the arguments for investments in public structures and the common good during his State of the Union address as well. But here we’re going to focus on how he closed his speech – by reminding us all of what it means to be a citizen.

“We may do different jobs, and wear different uniforms, and hold different views than the person beside us. But as Americans, we all share the same proud title: We are citizens.

It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we’re made. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.”

ND Governer Jack D2) We also appreciated the recent State of the State speech from North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple. Thanks to our partners at Healthy North Dakota for bringing it out our attention.

Dalrymple is a Republican with the fortune of governing a state experiencing an economic boom thanks to its natural resources. While the governor does make reference to the state’s history of looking to enact “tax relief” whenever possible, he devotes most of his speech to how the state’s rapid economic growth is placing pressures on state and local governments. To respond to these pressures, the governor does not recommend sitting back while the private sector meets the needs. Instead he makes the case for an ambitious list of public investments, including development of water resources, public safety, transportation, public education, affordable housing, human services and land conservation. Here’s a snapshot from Dalrymple’s address:

“Enforcing our health and environmental rules is another important element in public safety. We must once again increase our efforts in the monitoring of our water supplies and waste water treatment by insuring that we have adequate staffing in our state Health Department. The pace of activity in the oil field has increased this demand significantly. It also calls for strong enforcement by our Oil and Gas Division personnel for compliance with our state’s laws and rules regarding oil drilling. These initiatives should not be viewed as simply growth in state government, but rather a necessary response to the increased activity, especially in western North Dakota.

Another great challenge facing our state is the supply of housing. … More housing is on its way, but high rents have caused the greatest challenge for people in the low- to moderate-income category. To meet this challenge we are currently making direct investments in low-income housing through our new Housing Incentive Fund administered by our own Housing Finance Agency. …

Today I am pleased to report that we have received the maximum allowable investment of $15 million in our Housing Incentive Fund. This will result in the construction in this biennium of 739 housing units valued at $104 million. These projects will greatly benefit 16 communities across the state. Despite this good progress, the need for affordable housing is so great that we recommend increasing the Housing Incentive Fund in the coming two years to $50 million.

Another challenge created by rapid growth is the maintenance and improvement of our roads and highways. These one-time infrastructure investments are the best use of our reserve funds because they will pay back to all of us for decades to come. Being able to move our products, people and services from place to place is at the very core of a thriving economy. But it’s not just about industry and commercial development. Providing a safe and convenient road system to every corner of the state is a basic necessity for people living in a rural state.”

tina koteck3) Next, meet Tina Kotek, Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives. Her recent Speech to a Joint Session of the Oregon Legislature explains why “keeping faith” with constituents includes keeping the state’s “democratic institutions” healthy and strong. Moreover, she calls on Oregonians to become more engaged in the governance of their state. Here, here! This is a snippet from Kotek’s address:

“Balancing our commitment to our constituents, our commitment to our state, and our commitment to future generations won’t always be easy. But doing so is, in my view, how we keep faith with our own values, and also keep faith with those who elected us. And keeping that faith – respecting that trust – has never been more important.

It’s a critical time for our state’s democratic institutions – for a state just shy of 154 years old – because the people’s faith in elected leaders is strained, and faith in government even more so. We must take action that continues to prove to Oregonians that, unlike Congress, we do things differently here. We can get things done. We believe in cooperation and collaboration. We are ready to take on difficult challenges.

To the small business owners, the stressed-out parents, the laid-off workers, the dedicated teachers, the students struggling to afford college, the families fighting to keep their homes – I want you to know that we are listening. We are here to do the people’s business. We are here to listen to the voices of all Oregonians. And we welcome an active and engaged citizenry to help us move Oregon forward.”

deval_patrick_small4) Last but not least, from our favorite high-profile advocate for an active public sector, we give you Deval Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts. We have enjoyed so many of his past speeches and the same can be said for his recent State of the Commonwealth address. Unlike most other governors, Patrick is publicly making the case for new revenues (through an income tax increase) to reinvest in the public systems and services essential to the future of Massachusetts.

“Opportunity is too important to leave to chance. Opportunity requires growth. And growth requires investment. It’s just as true of government as in any business. The economy is not like the weather; it is not some natural force that is beyond our control, something where we have to wait for others to predict or explain. What we choose to do, and not to do, shapes our future. Indeed, as one friend of mine likes to say, “The future belongs to those who prepare for it.”

That is why we invest in education, in innovation and in infrastructure.

We invest in education because well-prepared young minds and mid-career talent is our global calling card and our economic edge.

We invest in innovation because, with a workforce like ours, enabling and encouraging new ideas is the best way to take advantage of the knowledge explosion happening in the world economy today.

We invest in infrastructure because rebuilding our roads, rails, bridges, expanding broadband to every community, building new classrooms and labs and more affordable housing gives private initiative and personal ambition the platform for growth.

Education, innovation, infrastructure. It’s a strategy proven through history. And it’s working for us today.

That’s why we lead the nation in economic competitiveness, entrepreneurialism, student achievement, health care coverage, life sciences and biotech, veterans’ services, and energy efficiency. That’s why the state’s structural deficit is gone and why we have achieved the highest credit ratings in our history. That’s why, with further still to go, we have emerged from recession faster than most other states and stronger than we were before.”

The Boston Globe’s editorial about the speech raises some questions about the exact plans laid out in the governor’s address but concludes that, “Patrick deserves credit for setting bigger goals for the state, and putting a plan before the public.”

It’s also worth watching some of Governor Patrick’s address because, with apologies to our articulate president, Governor Patrick is, in our opinion, the best “delivery man.”

We hope you enjoyed these inspiring speeches as much as we did. But, let’s not let the fun end so quickly. Do you have any favorite speeches of your own? Please share them with us by posting them to our Facebook page. Tell us why you like them and how they are telling a more positive story about government.

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