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Bayh speaks about government, common good

Melissa Flanagan | Friday, February 25, 2011

Former U.S senator and governor of Indiana Evan Bayh, who was recently in New Zealand when an earthquake hit, said while the past few days have been traumatic, they have taught him how interrelated nations have become.

“I feel like my last 48 hours have been an example of globalization,” he said.

Bayh spoke about the role of the government in promoting the common good in an increasingly interconnected world, and the future of the American economy at the Notre Dame Forum Thursday.

Bayh said though he hasn’t had time to reflect on the events, he did realize how heroic the U.S. government was in the face of disaster.

“They stayed up throughout the night looking for Americans, trying to find tourists that were there, trying to get them out of the country,” he said.

Bayh stressed the randomness of life and the necessity of preparing ourselves for adversity, as well as the importance of realizing the physical things are not important.

“Your friends, your family, the relationships you forge,” he said. “That really is the stuff that makes life worth living.”

Bayh moved on to discuss the responsibility of public figures to promote the common good in today’s complex world.

The United States was founded on the beliefs of individual liberty, Bayh said, but in order to make the most of these freedoms, a sense of unification needed to emerge. He said he decided not to run for re-election in 2010 because partisanship has become too prominent in government.

“I hope we focus on the fact that we’re Americans first and not Republicans or Democrats first,” he said.

Bayh believes there are two factors that make an economy competitive in today’s world.

One important facet Bayh noted was investment in research and developing and creating new commodities, such as new cures for disease and new ways of communication.

Bayh said though the United States leads the world in the amount of money it invests in research and development, progress is flat while that of other countries is ascending.

The second necessary feature is a high degree of education among the nation’s citizens.

“We need to make sure our citizens can take advantage of the fruits of innovation by being innovators themselves,” Bayh said.

The gap in standard of living between well-educated citizens and those without any education is growing, he said. This needs to be addressed before it has extreme an economic and political impact on society.

“All of us need to know more about what’s going on to make informed decisions about who’s going to lead us,” he said.

Bayh said the growing globalization of the economy raised questions for the role of the government.

For example, Bayh cited Sept. 11 as an example between the great debate over personal liberties versus the need of government observation for safety reasons.

“There really are no limits there because [the terrorists] are suicidal,” he said. “This changed the whole notion of our self-defense.”

With enemies such as these, Bayh said the government needed to take extra precautions such as eavesdropping and surveillance, raising the question of how much is appropriate and how much is not.

“If you get it wrong on one hand, you’ve trampled on our civil liberties, which goes right to the core of who we are,” he said. “If you get it wrong on the other hand, people die, which may be the greatest destruction of civil liberties.”

With global threats to the people’s liberties, Bayh said the government must act in a way that keeps the nation safe but at the same time maintains the common good.

“We have to be secure, but at the same time true to our values,” he said.

Bayh said in spite of these issues, he was optimistic about the future of America as a strong force in the global economy.

Europe is aging and in debt, he said, and while the Indian subcontinent is innovative, its large, poor population is a weakness.

China, the last major competitor, has a quickly growing economy and a surplus of financial resources. However, Bayh said the country does not have a political system to absorb its population. He believes America will be the strongest contender in the global economy.

“Look at the innate dynamism, the ingenuity and when the chips are down, the goodness of the American people,” Bayh said. “I just think we’re going to succeed.”