Monday, January 07, 2008

Who's Afraid Of Big Government?

[Originally posted at on May 26, 2006]

Conservative talking heads always accuse liberals of favoring big government. It is a comical accusation, coming from a bunch that strenuously supports the Bush administration, which has transformed the biggest surplus in the nation's history into the largest deficit in the history of the world. The truth is that a liberal will always choose big government over big business because, at least in theory, government is supposed to act in the interest of people.

Who is afraid of big government, anyway? The answer, as always, is in the money. The systematic dismantling of government by Republicans, with the complicity of many a guilty Democrat, has been sponsored with the generous campaign donations of the insurance industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and the energy business, among others. Of course, smaller government leads to fewer controls over the business of campaign donors.

The Bush White House, loyal to its biggest contributors and masterminds, has carried on this dismantling of government on at least three fronts. First, it showed its gratitude with the largest corporate giveaways, to none other than energy companies, and with the most blatantly lopsided tax cuts in the history of the nation (with almost all the benefits of the tax cuts going to the richest 1% of the population). Then, it reduced the budget and size of many government agencies to the point of utter ineffectiveness. Notice that, in many cases, money for previously funded social programs was redirected to faith-based initiatives led by many of the religious organization that form the president’s voter base. In other cases, money was simply taken away from the government to be poured into private entities that provided fewer services at a higher cost. Such was the case of money given to companies like Blackwater, KBR, ChoicePoint, etc. Again, some of the president’s largest contributors. Finally, and perhaps most insidiously, some of the president’s programs, like the recently discovered use of domestic spying, have reinforced in citizens the fear that they should feel threatened by government run amok. Add to all this the blatant failures of Katrina, the war in Iraq, the handling of the Medicare prescription drug program, etc., and you start seeing a picture in which government is perceived as the problem rather than the solution.

Do not be deceived. The real goal of this administration, and of neocons in general, is “to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub,” as Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. That goal seems ominously close. In spite of what people like Norquist would have you believe, the real choice is not between big government and small government, as conservatives would have you believe. It is a choice between competent and incompetent government. It is not a matter of spending much money or little money. It is a matter of who controls the billions of dollars that government spends: the government itself, or big business? It is about how you would rather see your tax money spent: on war, as this administration has elected to do, or on securing our future, the future of our children, and the future of our planet? Would you rather fund corporate giveaways, or social programs? Who should benefit most from your taxes: corporate entities like Kellogg, Brown & Root, Halliburton, Exxon, Chevron, etc., or the people, whose money and hard work contribute the bulk of tax collections?

So the next time people accuse you, a liberal, of being for big government, you should consider using the following answers:

  • If by big government you mean an EPA that is not gutted so deeply that it does not have the resources to investigate and prosecute even the most egregious environmental trespasses, then I am for big government.
  • If by big government you mean an FDA that is adequately staffed and financed, so that it does not have to resort to third-party assessment of the non-harmfulness of a new drug, then I am for big government.
  • If by big government you mean an SEC that has enough man-power and brain-power to preemptively investigate the financial statements and dealings of companies like Enron, Global Crossing, MCI, Tyco, etc., before they drag millions of investors down in the dust with their criminal mishandling of their accounts, then I am for big government.
  • If by big government you mean a government that will ensure that no American needs to worry about retirement or the loss of his or her job because the government guarantees retirement (with Social Security) or healthcare (with a yet to be created National HealthCare System), then I am for big government.

On the other hand, if the only departments that get funded by government are the DoD, the NSA, and the DHS, and the Accounts Receivable departments of corporations close to Congress and the White House, or if your government is incapable of coming to your aid when you are the victim of a foreseeable disaster, then throw government, big or small as it maybe, into the harbor. Your ancestors already did a couple of centuries ago. It worked then, it will work again.

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