Political values differ from person to person across the United States, but the key values of liberty, equality and democracy are important from coast to coast. In shaping the United States, liberty, equality and democracy played a major role in the structure of the government and they continue to influence the American political system. The words liberty, equality, and democracy have multiple meanings and are interpreted by Americans in different ways, but no matter what everyone recognizes their importance. These key values consistently play a part in the structuring of American government and debates surrounding important issues.
Liberty is defined as freedom from governmental control (Ginsber, Lowi and Weir 27). Politically, liberty does not mean total freedom to do whatever one pleases. The freedom is in respect to a limited government and the laissez-faire approach to the economy. Liberty and laissez-faire capitalism have influenced the American government structure by the traditional minimal amount of government policy regarding capitalism. The idea of laissez-faire is described in simpler terms by Frank H. Knight in the Journal of Political Economy, “laissez-faire of course simply means freedom, in the particular case of economic policy: freedom of economic dictation by government” (782). With the recent economic crisis in the United States, people have begun to question the effectiveness and ability for laissez-faire capitalism to work. Nouriel Roubini, chairman of an economic consultant firm, discusses that a certain level of regulation in economics is needed so that the economy can become more stable in the future (1). A potential change in laissez-faire capitalism would alter the current amount of economic freedom that is the economic structure in the United States. Liberty is continually influencing government decisions and policy. To this day the structure and involvement of liberty in the United States is being evaluated.
The structure of our government has always been strongly influenced by the political value of liberty. According to the textbook, We the People, “The preamble to the constitution likewise identified the need to secure ‘the blessings of liberty’ as one of the key reasons for drawing up the constitution” (26). In framing our government liberty was so influential that it is cited as a big reason as to why the document that defines the structure of the American government was written. In structuring the American government the bill of rights was made a part of the constitution to protect the liberties of individuals. To this day Americans still enjoy liberties such as freedom of religion. Americans are free to practice whatever religion they choose. Liberties are still influencing the shape of government policies. Currently the military, “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy is a strong debate topic and looking like it will be repealed. The current DADT policy means that homosexuals can serve in the military, as long as they don’t admit their sexuality. It is argued by people, including Admiral Mike Mullen, that DADT is an infringement on a person’s fundamental liberties and that they should not have to hide who they are to serve their country. Senator John McCain is leading the fight against the repeal of the policy, believing that although the policy isn’t great, it is in fact effective and working (Sisk). Americans are continually battling for their liberties like in fighting the DADT policy because to Americans liberty is an incredibly important value.
“We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal…” begins the Declaration of Independence, quickly laying on the line that this new country believes in equality (Declaration of Independence). Equality in America is not seen as everyone has the exact same amount of everything. Equality of opportunity is the definition of the key political value. Equality in this light has structured the American government in monumental ways that are still a large part of the country today. In the American Journal of Political Science, Richard M. Merelman gives this definition of equal opportunity, “it asserts that each man should have equal rights and opportunities to develop his own talents and virtues and that there should be equal rewards for equal performances” (214-215). For example, the entirety of the public education system is based on this value of equality. Every child has the opportunity to attend school, and learn the same curriculum and develop their academic talents. The students are then rewarded grades based on their performances, and two students with two identical performances can’t get different grades. Equal opportunity promises to offer everyone equal chances, but doesn’t promise equal results of success or wealth.
The value of equality brings up the controversial issue of affirmative action. Affirmative action is, “government policies or programs that seek to redress the past injustices against specified groups by making special efforts to provide members of these groups with access to educational and employment opportunities” (Ginsberg, Lowi and Weir A27). The American Association for Affirmative Action represents affirmative action as a positive step toward equality, and creating greater equal opportunity for people (“About”). On the other side of affirmative action is reverse discrimination. Supreme Court rulings have set precedent that affirmative action is not okay if it leads to reverse discrimination. That is important because the American people look to the justice system to uphold the value of equality in cases regarding affirmative action. Recently the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a group of 20 fire fighters, consisting of one Hispanic and the rest Caucasian, who were not being promoted even though they had passed a test that meant that they should. The Supreme Court in a split decision found that reverse discrimination was present and unfair (Mears). Court cases such as the fire fighters case and the well-known University of Michigan affirmative action cases continue to draw attention to affirmative action, reverse discrimination, and the role that it all plays in the value of equality.
Democracy is defined as, “a system of rule that permits citizens to play a significant part in the governmental process, usually through the elections of key public officials” (Ginsberg, Lowi, and Weir 14). The American government is structured around democracy, and popular sovereignty is the way that Americans are given the opportunity to practice democracy. For a long time the United States wasn’t a fully democratic country. In 1870, the 15th amendment was ratified, giving African-American males the right to vote. Even after the ratification of the amendment, the African-American’s right to vote was not truly recognized until much later (“Fifteenth”). The passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 defended the African-American right to vote by, “applying a nationwide prohibition against the denial or abridgment of the right to vote on the literacy tests on a nationwide basis” (“Voting Rights”). Along with African-Americans, women weren’t a part of American democracy until 1920 with the passage of the 19th amendment (“Nineteenth”). Although the American governmental structure has always used democracy with the voting process, the United States was not a truly democratic country until 1965.
Democracy will always influence our political system because it is how our officials come to power. The American political system depends on democracy and the people electing those who will create policy. Americans will never want to lose the value of democracy and hold it dearly. It is a huge part of the American political culture.
Liberty plays a daily role for Americans and the political system. It is also at the forefront of policy with the current debate over the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Americans have always fought for their liberty, and continue to do so. Equality is a huge part of the political system, like all of the money that the federal government gives to public schools or the No Child Left Behind policy. Affirmative action is also a part of the value of equality, and what the justice system says is okay or not okay. The final of the values, democracy, a value that Americans deem fundamental, hasn’t been available to everyone for long. Now Americans are guaranteed the right to vote anddemocracy is widespread. These values are what our government runs on.
The structure of the American government reflects liberty, equality, and democracy. The United States fought so hard for these values that they became the basis of the government. America wouldn’t have liberty if it weren’t for the Revolutionary War, equality would be different if there was no Civil War, and people have fought many civil rights battles to be a part of the American democracy. These values didn’t come cost free, and remembering that makes them all the more important. America is a country based on these values.
“About the AAAA.” American Association for Affirmative Action. American Association for Affirmative Action, n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2010.
“Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution.” Library of Congress. n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2010.
Ginsberg, Benjamin, Theodore J. Lowi, Margaret Weir. We the People. Ed. Ann Shin. New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 2009. Print.
Knight, Frank H. “Laissez Faire: Pro and Con.” The Journal of Political Economy 75.6 (Dec., 1967): 782-795. JSTOR. 22 Feb. 2010.
McKerlie, Dennis. “Equality.” Ethics 106.2 (Jan., 1996): 274-296. JSTOR. Web. 21 Feb. 2010.
Mears, Bill. “High Court Backs Firefighters in Reverse Discrimination Suit.” CNN. CNN, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2010.
Merelman, Richard M. “Social Mobility and Equal Opportunity.” American Journal of Political Science 17.2 (May, 1973): 213-236. JSTOR. Web. 21 Feb. 2010.
“Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.” Our Documents. Our Documents, n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2010.
Roubini, Noureil. “Laissez-Faire Capitalism has Failed.” Forbes. Forbes, 19 Feb. 2009. Web. 21 Feb. 2010.
Sisk, Richard. “End ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ Policy for Gays in the Military, Top Brass Tells Senate.” NY Daily News. New York Daily News, 2 Feb. 2010. Web. 22 Feb. 2010.
The Declaration of Independence. 4 July 1776.
“The Voting Rights Act of 1965.” Department of Justice. American Federal Government, n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2010.