As a family therapist who works from a perspective of family systems theory, I find it interesting to look at how the Presidential candidates differ with in their views of how to give fair governance to all of America's citizens.
[Note: for a thought-provoking summary of the policies of each candidate see Melanie Sturm's Think Again column in Colorado's Aspen Times.]
For one thing, I see the candidates as differing in their psychological assumptions of what citizens need from their government because they view their citizens more as children or as adults. One candidate sees fair as the government taking good care of its citizens like parents would of the children in their family, e.g., as Obama would take care of his two daughters. The other sees government more as parents of adult children, like Romney would treat his five adult sons. That is, they each treat the American citizenry as if America is a family in a different stage of a family's developmetal life cycle.
President Obama, when he talks about more taxes for the rich, defines fair in our economy as closing the income differences, much like good parents would want to insure that they are treating their children financially equally. His socialist/progressive perspective embraces the idea from Karl Marx of "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” The role of government in this view is to re-distribute wealth to reduce what goes to “the rich” via taxation and to give to those in need via social welfare programs.
This view is similar to the way most parents take care of their young kids, being sure that they give each child what they need. Parents have to be careful to minimize sibling rivalry by trying to help each child feel that he or she has received more or less the same amount of love, money, time and attention.
Governor Romney by contrast starts from a conception of fair based on personal responsibility, that we each reap what we sow. Like a parent of adult children the ages of Governor Romney's adult sons, Romney expects his offspring/citizens to be mainly self-sufficient. He expects them to be able to make their own decisions about how to earn and how to spend their money, and assumes that they want to excerise their independence with minimal interference from him or his wife.
At the same time, Romney's “compassionate conservatism” posits that all of us, and especially those who reap more, have a personal responsibility to react with generosity and compassion to those in need. He assumes that government does have a vital role in insuring that no one should be left without the basics necessary for physical survival. If his adult children were to run into emotional or other distress, he'd for sure be there with a helping hand.
If both candidates express concern that the needy get help, how is help given differently?
President Obama sees help as being funneled primarily through government. Governor Romney sees help for the neediest as coming somewhat from government via social programs but primarly from government creating economic conditions for the full family of America to thrive.
This difference in "parenting styles" is similar to what you see in family systems that are more enmeshed, i.e.,where the parents are highly involved in all that the chlldren do, versus more disengaged, that is, parenting more by something like benign neglect. Both extremes of course can become problematic.
The right amount of helicopter versus hands off parenting depends upon the needs of the children. Probably the same is true of the needs of our citizenry. Those who are more needy need more government involvement. Those who are more independent thrive best with trusting parents who provide a safe and nurturing environment in which kids get losts of personal freedeom and responsibility.
One value that makes America great is that caring for others is part of the definition of fair for most of us.
Fair goes beyond taking care of just myself. As the philospher Hillel once wrote, "If I am not for myself, who will be? And if I am for myself alone, what good am I?"
At the same time, Democrats might say that fair requires the government to redistribute the wealth of those who have earned and/or received exceptional good financial fortune. Republicans might be more likely to say that fair is giving folks personal responsibility for taking care of themselves and for helping others, with government just the safety net of last resort and regulation mostly just a matter of ensuring basic safety..
In reality, neither candidate is all or nothing in these strategies of how to implement being fair.
For instance, President Obama, in his initial speech to folks hit by Hurricane Sandy, stressed that we each have to reach out to help our neighbor in this time of need.
Similarly, Governor Romney reminds us that one reason why we must effectively address our spending excesses and reduce our deficit is that it is not “fair” to leave huge debts for the next generation. He expresses concern too that the our slow economy and sluggish growth rate is a burden felt the most by the poor and the unemployed, so government must be more effective in getting the economy going again.
My main conclusion: How fortunate we are that we live in a country where both Presidential candidates see economic fairness, that is, that all of us one way or another take care of each other as well as of ourselves, as so foundational to our way of thinking.
G-d bless America!