That was what happened with President Eisenhower's Interstate Highway System, with President John F. Kennedy's space program (which spurred the development of computers and microprocessors), and with any number of other government-sponsored innovations, from pharmaceuticals to the Internet.
But that is the opposite of what Romney, the Tea Party and other anti-government extremists want to do. Indeed, "redistribution" has become Romney's new curse word in the campaign, citing a 14-year-old clip of Obama as a state senator supporting some level of redistribution to give everyone "a shot."
For Romney and today's Republicans, it's all about rewarding the "winners" and forgetting the "losers," the "47 percent" whom Romney disparaged in a secretly recorded meeting with donors. These anti-government zealots want a return to the Social Darwinism of the Gilded Age and the "laissez-faire" model that failed.
After all, facts and logic have little place in the land of modern Republicanism. Instead of recognizing the wisdom accumulated over the past century -- reinforced by the harsh realities of Bush's crash of 2008 -- the GOP insists on doubling-down on bad bets. More tax cuts tilted to the rich, less regulation of Wall Street, more "free trade."
The simple truth is that the only way to rebuild the Great American Middle Class and to begin getting the federal debt under control is by taxing the rich more. Yet, today's brand of Republican Party won't take even the smallest step in that direction, citing pledges made to anti-tax radical Grover Norquist.
So what can be done? How do you save a party that has embraced anti-government extremism, that proposes tax cuts as the cure for all ills, that rejects science if it goes against ideology, that promotes crazy conspiracy theories to delegitimize opponents, that makes its case to the American people through outright lies, that tries to win elections through racially tinged voter suppression, and that relies on TV ad carpet-bombings to get votes?
How can the GOP be salvaged when its philosophical leaders are the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter? How can Americans intervene to remake the Republican Party into a constructive -- and necessary -- counterweight to the Democrats?
The only answer appears to be a series of crushing electoral defeats for this Republican Party. Not just one or two disappointing cycles but a consistent repudiation of this extremist organization until its more moderate elements can reclaim leadership and redirect -- not simply repackage -- the policies.
Like a person suffering from a violent split personality, the traditional Republican Party cannot coexist with the right-wing radicalism that has taken over my dad's GOP. Only a determined intervention from the outside -- from the American electorate over several election cycles -- can give the old Republicans a chance to reemerge.
If the Tea Partiers and the neocons are repudiated again and again, the Republican Party could get back in touch with its earlier traditions of thoughtful policies, those bipartisan ideas that helped build a great nation.