There appears to be enough of a consensus built for referring to the more reactionary, obstructionist element among Republican members of Congress as “anti-government.” This is a tag that one would imagine confounding the Dickens out of any unsuspecting observer. But for those of us familiar with the jaw-dropping combat positions some of today’s gladiators have staked out for themselves, we’re probably immune to the incredulity of a crusade founded on de-legitimizing the institution of government. We’re very aware that there is indeed such an animal within the bowels of the GOP, and that its adherents wear the “anti-government” label like some red badge of courage.
For starters, we probably should give these folks the benefit of the doubt and assume that although committed to this anti-government cause, their presence in government is explained by the desire to effect a dismantling of government (a whole chunk of it, at least) from within. Hence the presence in the Senate of the likes of Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, and in the House, a slew of Tea Party partisans, all of them rabidly loyal to the “government is the problem” mantra Ronald Reagan introduced for his brand of populist revolt decades ago.
There’s a lot ascribed to Reagan that pokes holes in the contention of some commentators, not all of them necessarily on the right, who assign to him a premium ranking among presidents that’s very much open to question. That’s another forum, but the anti-government push of which he was prime instigator is certainly one of those none too flattering constituents of the Reagan legacy .
Especially given the reckless disregard for the sanctity of governance we’ve seen of late, one begins to see how there could be a mindset developed which dismisses outright the notion of government as central to the society-building apparatus. When some of the players involved in shutting down the government prattle on glibly about allowing the shutdown to endure indefinitely, it’s clear that purveyors of such tripe are seamlessly wedded to a comfort zone in denial about the role of government at society’s core.
Strictly speaking, it’s not that these would be insurgents acknowledge no role whatsoever for some “government” facsimile. It is that they are prepared to ride the “get government off our backs” rally cry to such ludicrous extremes, their re-design of government would leave the bulk of the population up a creek and paddle-less. Government is for arming the state to the teeth to protect against invasion and for invading when there’s that urge. Not surprisingly, government is for allowing the citizenry to also arm itself silly. Government is not for taxing the people and if it must, do so sparingly; and absolutely have no designs on the well-to-do paying a fair share. Government is not for regulating business in any way; “free enterprise” means those who engage in business have earned themselves an unimpeded path. Government has no business concerning itself about income inequality having reached alarming proportions. Etc, etc.
In the view of the anti-government crusaders, it is not government’s call to show concern for those who find themselves left behind, economically. So that Lyndon Johnson’s introduction of Medicare was a major misstep in the American narrative. As was Franklin Roosevelt’s introduction of Social Security. Movement standard bearer Rand Paul sounded off on the uproar over last week’s budget deal not including an extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed: he supports unemployment benefits for 26 weeks; to pay benefits beyond that is to encourage the unemployed to remain unemployed!
One good thing about comments like Paul’s unconscionable dismissal of folks about to be thrown into desperate straits, is that sentiment in the camp of those endorsing state indifference as exemplified by Paul tends now not to be camouflaged. Time was that such indicators of assault on working class folk would perhaps not be given that sort of in-your-face prominence, more likely hidden behind the full-court press mounted to woo the gullible with tried and true social conservative carrots like abortion, gay rights, immigration and the rest. The movement today to stand on a platform of fiscal conservatism even to an extent potentially of throwing most Americans under the bus bespeaks a tightened-jaw level of unconcern for the working class and middle class.
We cannot but reference yet again Mitt Romney’s famous “47 percent” comment. Romney, being as unabashedly lacking in conviction as he showed, numbering him with the anti-government lot wouldn’t be smart. But his hoof-in-mouth “47 percent” spiel to those high-rolling Republican sympathizers would seem pretty close to what one might presume to be a strategy plank of anti-government advocates…although we suspect that the 47 percent of voters that Romney wrote off needs to be racheted up some. The right flank players championing this idea of government abdicating a substantial portion of its customary role know full well that massive pushback is assured from folks taking it on the chin. And they happen to be most Americans.
Deficit reduction at the federal level is an objective we all, regardless of political persuasion, need support. But using the deficit as rationale for insensitively going the other way is the kind of ploy from the usual suspects with which by now we’re quite familiar. Government may not be the paramount solution. But there’s still every reason to think of government as much more solution than problem.