Protecting the Vulnerable: A Necessary Role of the Government is to Protect Those in True Need

Protecting the Vulnerable: A Necessary Role of the Government is to Protect Those in True Need

Principles for Federal Government

At first glance, protecting the vulnerable seems to be one of the least politically controversial principles of all. Who could be against protecting the vulnerable? People of all political perspectives, for example, have demanded nothing less from the government during the Covid-19 pandemic. “Protect vulnerable elderly people and those with preexisting conditions from catching the disease!” the call came, and governments responded. “Protect our vulnerable businesses and workers from economic destruction!” was shouted just as loudly, and the “Paycheck Protection Program” was passed by Congress. “Protect teachers!” met the cry to “Protect students by getting them back in the classroom!” “We need personal protective equipment for our vulnerable front line and health care workers!” everyone agreed. We see, in the abstract, a consensus on a legitimate governmental purpose to protect the vulnerable.

Unfortunately, we don’t live only in an abstract world, but in a real one. And, when clarity replaces the abstract, when reality replaces theory, and especially when oxes start getting gored, the political issues associated with protecting the vulnerable can be some of the most controversial of all. Disputes quickly develop regarding who is vulnerable and how best to protect those who are (and, sadly, at what cost). The devil is in the details.

Who is Most Vulnerable?

One way to explore this principle is through a thought experiment of sorts. Please start by imagining a world in which the U.S. Government has limited resources of money, time, personnel, power, ability, and political will. With this in mind, take some time to review the table below and consider which categories you consider vulnerable enough to need some type of protection by the federal government. To make this even more difficult, try to rank these categories in order, starting with the most vulnerable and therefore in the direst need of the most significant government assistance. In a world in which the government has limited resources, your task in this exercise will be, in essence, to determine where the vulnerable groups would stand in the line for government protection. Who you put at the front of the line likely will determine—or be determined by—how you feel about the hot button political issues in America today.

Here is a beginning list of categories for your consideration (feel free to write in others):

___ Abuse victims


___ Babies and children

___ Mentally ill

___ Consumers

___ Poor

___ Crime victims

___ Racial minority group members

___ Criminally accused

___ Refugees

___ Elderly

___ Sick

___ Farmers

___ Small businesses

___ Females

___ Soldiers in U.S. Military

___ Fetuses

___ Veterans of U.S. Military

___ Hungry

___ Victims of sex trafficking

___ Immigrants

___ People facing domestic or foreign security threats

___ Imprisoned

___ People denied voting rights

___ Investors

___ People with assets or businesses they could lose

___ Jobless

___ People needing a livable climate in the future*

*These last four categories are included to demonstrate the complexity and breadth of the necessary analysis, as the groups that warrant consideration include nearly everyone alive today and in the future.

At least two issues come into view during this exercise. First, it becomes apparent there are many groups that can make a strong case for deserving a spot near the front of the line for protection. Within each group, some individuals truly need protection and others do not, but the majority of the categories do seem worthy from a distance.

The second point is that the need to protect the vulnerable touches on so many different political issues, including: Abortion (both the woman and the fetus are vulnerable), government benefits, climate change, education, foreign relations, guns, health care, immigration, law enforcement, national defense, racial and criminal justice, regulation, and even taxation (i.e., something needs to fund any protections offered). Principle Based Politics, in future posts, will demonstrate how we would apply all of our principles—both the Leadership Principles discussed earlier and the Government Principles being explicated in the current series of posts—to the political issues listed here, and to other issues.

For now, we think the conclusion is inescapable that protecting the vulnerable is a major role for our federal government. While this principle must be balanced against other valid principles like limited government, which will be the subject of posts in two weeks, the only questions remain the best way to protect those in need and the difficult decisions on who will receive how much protection. Only those truly in need should be protected. And care must be taken to avoid creating dependency on handouts, which does not truly help anyone in the long term.

Constitutional Protection of Vulnerable Groups

The United States Constitution supports the principle of protecting the vulnerable, just as it does all of the Principles for Federal Government advocated on this blog. Constitutional protections were adopted, foremost, to protect all Americans against tyranny and oppression by the federal government itself, a vulnerability heavy on the minds of the founders. But there are protections for specific groups, as well, plus a procedure for passing additional new laws and adopting amendments to the Constitution itself.

One large group of protections was discussed in our last post on the principle of law and justice—the founders included numerous provisions in the Bill of Rights in particular to protect the individuals charged with and convicted of crimes. Legal protections also were enacted to protect property owners and others involved in civil disputes from being deprived of their property “without due process of law.” Slaves, former slaves, and potential future slaves all were protected later through constitutional amendments following the Civil War, certainly in recognition of the vulnerability of those groups. Needs for national security were met by constitutional provisions for the formation of a military and armed militias, no doubt to protect the citizenry from further vulnerability to foreign attacks.

With a clear national consensus on the need to protect the truly vulnerable, and the Constitutional support for the principle, there is no reason we cannot as Americans come together on the details of how best to do so.

Written by Quentin R. Wittrock, founder of Principle Based Politics. 

Look for his posts twice each week, as this blog will explore and promote the idea of principle in politics, both as to individual elected leaders and our federal government as an institution.

This month, we are expounding on the following government principles:

  • Equality: Governments must treat all people equally and fairly.
  • Freedom and free enterprise: Liberty and freedom of the people and free markets should be purposes of government.
  • Transparency: Telling the people the truth, openly, is the best way to govern.
  • Law and Justice: Upholding the law and Constitution, justly, is an essential governmental function.
  • Protecting the vulnerable: A necessary role of the government is to protect those in true need.
  • Religious freedom and separation: All must be free to worship, but church and state should remain separate.
  • Limited government: The federal government should do only what others cannot.
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