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Front Page » January 10, 2002 » Opinion » Links general welfare, common defense
Published 4,699 days ago

Links general welfare, common defense


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By DANIEL SMITH
Minuteman Media


The preamble to the U.S. Constitution reads: "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Many pundits ascribe to the theory that common defense is the most important duty of the federal government. But they overlook the emphasis the Founding Fathers seemed to place on the need for union, justice and public tranquility. These are the preconditions needed for an internal consensus that would be strong enough to motivate men and women to mount a common defense in time of national danger.

Arguably, union, justice and domestic tranquility are but specific aspects of the general welfare. That term covers all the other elements - including the recovery from and remediation of tragedies such as Sept. 11 - which help build a sense of nationhood. Indeed, publicly and privately, the nation has been generous in the aftermath of Sept. 11, with the government allocating $8.3 billion of the second $20 billion emergency supplemental to help with recovery.

But as America moves into 2002, there is a danger that general welfare will be overpowered by traditional concepts of common defense. The fiscal year 2002 defense appropriation bill stands at $320.9 billion - a 6.3 percent or $20 billion increase from FY 2001.

Sports popularized the axiom that the best defense is a good offense. If this is true for the military, ought it not be true for other responsibilities of government? Even in the aftermath of Sept. 11, the response for non-military departments on the front lines of defense internationally and domestically has not been of equal measure to the allocations for the Pentagon.

Take foreign aid. The World Health Organization estimates that essential care interventions in the world's 60 poorest countries requires $38 per person per year, but only $13 per capita is being spent. Historically, the kind of economic growth that offers hope and encourages self-help instead of resentment and terrorism does not begin until rampant diseases are controlled.

In the United States, per capita spending on health care is $4,500. But the U.S. is last among the 22 countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in the amount it contributes as a percentage of gross domestic product to help other nations fight disease, poor health, ignorance and poverty.

On the home front, the $20 billion emergency supplemental bill contained $2.5 billion to help equip local public health systems to combat bioterrorism. Fine. But local systems need an estimated $ 10 billion during the next five years just to get modem communications most Americans take for granted - high speed Internet access and e-mail - and to develop emergency response plans. In the FY 2002 budget, $500 million is earmarked for these tasks.

Medical research, in particular, is a prime instance in which an aggressive offense is imperative. FY 2002 funding for the National Institutes of Health is $23.6 billion, an increase of just $3.2 billion over 200 1. And this amount was part of the pre-Sept. 11 budget request for FY 2002.

Fighting terrorism cannot be ignored. But perhaps the definition of terror needs to be expanded to include not only armed assaults, but also the lack of nutritious food, basic health services, fundamental education and shelter for our own citizens as well as for others. Looked at from the perspective of removing the causes of terrorism, providing for the general welfare is the same as providing for the common defense.

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