Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Party of (No) Government

E.D. Kain from the League of Ordinary Gentleman has this to say about how conservatives view government:

...one flaw that permeates modern conservatism which is this deep, deep distrust of all things having to do with the state. This, coupled with far too much faith in markets and corporations and so forth have led to a “shrinking” of government by essentially just contracting out government duties to private firms. In all fairness, this was also a central practice of Bill Clinton who famously claimed that the days of big government were over. Of course, when you shrink government by simply paying private firms to do government work you’re not really shrinking or limiting it at all. What you are doing is displaying a deep distrust of all things political. And this makes it very hard, I would argue, for conservatives to govern competently. Which, conversely, leads to growth of government in ways that simply don’t make sense.

This is why the last eight years were such a complete mess, and why by contrast I’d say that George Bush Sr. was such an effective president in comparison albeit a very under appreciated one. Conservatives have always believed in limited government, but lately it seems as though limited is not good enough. Government of any sort save perhaps defense is decried as evil or ineffective, and any move toward providing social services of any kind is demonized as statist or socialist or worse.

As I've indicated before, I am somewhat perplexed by the viewpoint of many Republicans towards government. One can be concerned about how big government is and if it is working effectively, but many on the right seem to go farther, viewing anything short of the military as setting us on the road to serfdom.

But the fact is, most people want a government that does things. It doesn't mean that government should run the whole show, but they do want government to DO something. Very few people are voting for politicians to do nothing. In my view, this a reason why the GOP has a hard time courting African Americans: most African Americans who might live in areas filled with harsh deprivation, are looking for the government to help rejuventate their cities. Does, this make African Americans Marxists? Of course not. But they are looking for ways that can help uplift millions of African Americans from poverty and bring economic vitality.

In the January 2009 issue of the Ripon Forum, author Kelly Pipes notes that the Republican party should look to former President Dwight Eisenhower as a model of govering, one that has a positive view of government, but isn't what one could consider "liberal." This is what Pipes has to say about how Ike viewed government:

For starters, Ike tried to run the government like a business. Many politicians say this; Ike lived it. He balanced the federal budget three times in his eight years. Yet he understood the difference between spending and investment. While he opposed frivolous programs, he invested heavily in national defense, education, space and transportation. These investments provided huge dividends for the country. The president saw all these programs as part of his Cold War strategy. For example, he had seen the need for better roads in a time of crisis as a young Army officer. The interstate highway system was designed not just to help move people around, but troops and equipment, too.

There is a wonderful pragmatism found in this view of government. Ike actually believed in balancing the budget and did it, but also invested in many government programs like the Interstate Highway System. Ike did not see government as the answer to everything, but he did see it as an effective tool to bring about a better society.

Here in Minnesota, Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty has made a name for himself in not raising taxes, at all. That has won the hearts of many on the right. But it also exposes the many contradictions of modern conservatism. On the one hand, Pawlenty rails against the Democrats and their taxing ways. Fair enough, but he also knows that the state government needs money and that people want good roads and schools. Even the most ardent anti-government conservative wants these things. So, if you are a Republican governor who wants to maintain his anti-tax street creds, but also wants to be seen doing something, what does one do?

Well, in the case of Pawlenty, a lot of odd stuff. He has done accounting shifts, spending cuts, using the "state credit card" in the form of borrowing and even trying to get a state-run casino off the ground. All this to prevent raising taxes.

It's not that the Dems in Minnesota have any good ideas, most of their plans are the same old, same old- tax the wealthy. What is needed is a better way of tax collection that doesn't impede the freedom of Minnesotans to grow their economy. In short it is not as much about smaller government but efficient or smarter government.

At the national level, Republicans are not much better. We rail against more taxes, but we know that Americans want their government to fix problems. So, we give the public some of the things they want, like perscription drug benefits, but then don't bother to find a way to pay for it.

It's way past time that Republicans grow up in their attitudes toward government. We have to see government not as a leviathan that will destroy us all, but as a tool to help get things done. Again, E.D. Kain:

I think there is much to be said for a conservatism that does not promote any and all deregulation but instead does a good job at weeding out bad regulations, ineffective or damaging taxes, and so forth, and communicates this effectively to the American people. At the same time, conservatives need to distinguish between limited government – the running, in other words, of a tight ship – and all government being bad and unwanted and oppressive. This is simply not true. Government is an extension of society, and while it is prone to abuse and overreach, nevertheless in our system it is also representative and we are all a part of it.

Once we get over our phobia of government, then we might be able to be a real governing party again.

1 comment:

Philip H. said...

Neo, Its not a phobia of government. Rather, the leaders of the Republican Party, as neoconservatives, are also Social Darwinists. They firmly believe in survival of the fittest, economically, and the concurrent view that those at the top, who have "survived" deserve both a special place, and to dictate to those below who can "succeed" and who can't.

Government is there fore an "enemy" in their view because it levels the playing field and provides services which allow the "people below" to live and even thrive without the economically successful at the top. Hence the desire to conrtact out the work of government isn't about making government smaller or bigger - it's about making it function so badly that those on top can stay on top, and those below will be forced to stay below.