Over the past two centuries, the social, political and geopolitical, economic, military, and
technological conditions under which the Federal government operates have undergone dimensional
SociallyEarly settlers desired liberty from governmental tyranny which in their homelands across the sea had limited their religious practice, chance at prosperity, and happiness. The expectation that the government might step in to protect workers--shackled to severe industrial conditions, indentured, enslaved, or otherwise--was as alien as the newly arriving peoples. Today the American drive for unfettered economic advancement and absolute personal liberty has become more complex. The people now demand government be the principle guardian and promoter of their standard of living and quality of life. They call upon the Federal government to maintain high levels of employment, prevent crime, care for the sick, combat drug abuse, provide high-quality education, etcetera.
PoliticallyThe Founding Fathers had little experience with democratic government, outside of their studies of ancient Greece. Contemporary nations of the world in their time were run mainly by monarchies or outright tyrants. Their fear of democracy, especially with a largely uneducated populace, was such that the republic they envisioned would only experiment with limited popular control. They checked power they granted the people, and to its representative government, with the separation of powers, staggered and misaligned elections, and the electoral college. Two hundred years experience working within a representative democracy, and a far broader education of the populace, lessens our fear of democracy.
GeopoliticallyOur 18th-century population of a couple million in thirteen contiguous British colonies, occupied less than a million acres of eastern land along the Atlantic ocean. Since then the population has multiplied a hundredfold, approaching 300 million in 50 states, and occupies four times the land area. Population density has increased almost twenty times. Our mainland territory now spans almost three thousand miles across the continent east-to-west, with lengthy coastlines and continent-wide borders along two foreign nations. The largest state, almost a fifth of our land mass, sits a thousand miles from our mainland across foreign territory. This Alaskan peninsula juts into the Arctic Ocean, and toward Russia (separated only by a narrow strait), creating half of our total shoreline. Another sits three thousand miles into the Pacific ocean. U.S. possessions and territories dot the globe. The impact of this expansion on social demands, economic diversity, diplomacy, trade complexities, contraband protection, transportation needs, exposure to military threat, immigration management, etc. almost exceeds definition.
EconomicallyThe country has gone from a simple agrarian British colony and trading outpost, to the largest economy in the world, representing more than a fifth of the global economy. Growth derives today from complex and rapidly transforming industries, highly dependent on technological advancement, and must be managed in terms of ever-increasing environmental protection trade-offs and international competition. Battles in the global economic marketplace require highly skilled governmental dealings with other countries, perhaps more intricate than the conduct of warfare. Even major industry, great laissez faire proponents of old, cries out for governmental assistance when competing internationally.
MilitarilyOnce a ward of England, with settlers facing skirmishes mainly with native tribes, the U.S. has become the world's undisputed military leader, the only military "superpower". With this position often comes the responsibility of managing world affairs, while maintaining American interests and her position in the world. The prospect of the U.S. being challenged in this leadership role by the only nation in a position to do so over the coming decades, i.e., China, would likely be unappealing to most peoples of the world.
TechnologicallyThe U.S. has been transformed by great advances in communications, that have granted the news media considerable power in the political process. The media today possess perhaps the greatest influence in determining election results, influence that is not politically accountable or effectively balanced by official governmental power. The amount of time and energy public officials must devote to managing media exposure, coupled with the loss of privacy, can make running for and serving in political office highly unappealing. The dimensional changes in these fundamental conditions place extraordinary pressure on a system of government designed for a wholly different era.
Governmental ResponsibilityWith the changes in conditions has come a revolutionary change in the role of the U.S. government. Originally envisioned as the umbrella for the states, focusing mainly on providing joint national security, making treaties, coining the national currency, and regulating interstate commerce, the federal government responsibilities have expanded considerably. Domestically, major needs it addresses newly or in a greatly expanded fashion include:
While the U.S. standard of living is among the highest in the world, its quality of life is considered among the lowest of the developed nations, affected as it is by poor education, income disparity, high crime, lack of public health care, etc. Raising this quality of life across these dimensions requires a marshalling of related expertise focused intently on creating long-range plans that help build a better future.
In the international sphere--where the U.S. seeks to maintain its position, protect its interests, and help "manage" the world for the good of itself and other nations--the areas of responsibility remain much the same, e.g., diplomacy and security. But we now preside globally as world leader economically, militarily, technologically, and politically to a large degree. And the appearance of highly complex issues such as global environmental protection, nuclear weaponry, terrorism, economic unions and trade zones, etc., require expert focus and visionary solutions.