How do you love your country but hate your government? Our government is what differentiates us between many of the countries believers in American exceptionalism judge as inferior. Some republicans, going back to Ronald Reagan, say the people are what make America great; but many Americans do not think those whose ideologies they oppose are “great” Americans. Ann Coulter and other conservative commentators have advocated, in feigned jest, the killing of liberals, and some religious leaders suggested tolerance of gays was such an affront to God that he brought 9/11 and Katrina on the United States.
The conservatives’ dislike of government was evident even before Reagan’s presidency and persists no matter the party of the officeholder. The republican party consistently encourages citizens to view the government as an entity that, like most creatures, is concerned first and foremost with its own welfare.
Consider Grover Norquist, a right-wing strategist who heads the staunchly conservative “Americans for Tax Reform.” Despite the name of his organization, Norquist does not want tax reform; he wants taxes abolished. He assisted Newt Gingrich with drafting the “Contract of America” and has advised many republican officeholders, including George W. Bush. You might assume that someone so tight with government officials must care deeply about the government, but that is not the case with Norquist. Norquist, whose company subsists on donations from major US corporations (particularly tobacco and liquor companies), famously said, “My goal 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.”
The republicans’ “Washington outsider” anti-government platform has become cliche. Their mantras include “Americans don’t need the government telling them how to spend their hard-earned money,” “You don’t need a government bureaucrat getting between you and your doctor,” “We don’t want government-run healthcare,” and “Since when can the government run anything,” (except, apparently, the military, Social Security, Medicare, and VA hospitals). Next, they position themselves as heroes who will sweep in on a white horse and whip the government lion into a kitten–that they can drown in the bathtub. Democrats, in contrast, are portrayed as enablers, feeding the great beast so it can wreak havoc on Americans’ lives. This is encapsulated in a recent comment from republican senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who said “the government is a predator, not a competitor.”
A classic illustration of republican anti-government rhetoric is seen in Louisiana governorBobby Jindal’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union address this year. He said republicans and democrats “look for hope in two different places,” and went on to explain:
Democratic leaders in Washington place their hope in the federal government. We place our hope in yhou, the American people.
Jindal also said, “The strength of America is not found in our government.” If that is true, why did former President Bush declare his goal was to export American-style democracy to the Middle East? Or say terrorists “hate us for our freedoms,” those Constitutional rights our government protects? Ironically, Jindal listed some of the greatest challenges America has overcome: “We…cast off the scourge of slavery, overcame the great depression, prevailed in two world wars, won the struggle for civil rights, [and] defeated the soviet menace…” Anyone familiar with our country’s history will recognize the government’s critical role in bringing about all these accomplishments.
By continually instilling Americans with fear and distrust of their government, republicans have made some forget that we, the people, are the government. We select our representation at the lowest levels of government. If we oppose the government’s practices, our votes give us the power to replace the current administration with someone the majority supports–which is how Barack Obama came to be president.
A major problem republicans have with our government is the fact that it is a democracy. Following George W. Bush’s election, Karl Rove cited his goal as creating a “permanent republican majority.” This slogan was carried by the conservative media; radio personality Hugh Hewitt even titled his book “Painting the Map Red: The Fight to Create a Permanent Republican Majority.” A permanent majority is not far down the slippery slope from a dictatorship.
Conservatives’ continual reinforcement of the government as something that works against their concerns rather than for them is why so many of their constituents have readily embraced the insane notion that the government will establish “death panels” to euthanize their loved ones or why they believe assertions from various Fox “News” hosts that the Nazi-like Obama government has hired nefarious “czars” and is compiling an “enemies” list via e-mail subscribers to its healthcare site. Glenn Beck of Fox inanely t0ld viewers to avoid the government’s “Cash for Clunkers” Website because it will seize permanent control of their computer, allowing the government to spy on them.
Minnesota Republican Michelle Bachmann has discouraged people from taking the Census, claiming the data may be used to establish “internment camps.” She said the government-sponsored AmeriCorps (which her son later joined) were “re-education camps.” In yet another fit of antigovernment fury, she urged supporters to contact democrats “and let them know, under no certain circumstances will I give the government control over my body and my health care decisions.” Apparently Bachmann, who is staunchly antiabortion, failed to recognize the demand pro-choice advocates have been making for decades. Need more examples of conservative fear-mongering? Former Congressional Republican Dick Armey said on “Meet the Press” that Social Security and Medicare were examples of “tyranny.” The latest Fox/republican attack claims the Veteran’s Administration has a “death book” to persuade soldiers to select euthanasia if they become seriously ill.
You would imagine that a party with such strong opposition to government would not continually oppose all attempts to reduce (or reapportion) defense spending. Why would they want this threatening government beast in possession of a top-notch military? Congressional republicans and their constituents also oppose cuts to Social Security or Medicare, two large government-run programs.
You would also think that a party with such fervent opposition to government would have opposed the Bush administration’s many anti-privacy initiatives, such as the Patriot Act and warrantless wiretapping laws. Yet, this was not the case (though they did oppose FISA warrants under Clinton).
The truth is republicans in Congress are as much a part of the government machine as democrats; many have served decades in the Senate. The main difference is that democrats rely heavily on support from minorities, laborers, and the middle class to get elected and for their own survival must push for some laws to protect these classes, whereas republicans depend primarily on the largess of major corporations and industries and, thus, seek to protect their benefactors’ interests–often at the expense of their constituents. The only way they can get away with it is to convince their followers that the very things likely to improve their lives (such as healthcare reform or extensions in unemployment benefits) are poison apples held in the hand of an evil government out to destroy them.
These days, in all halls of Washington, money speaks louder than the groans of the untreated sick, the rumblings of the poor’s empty stomachs, and the chattering teeth of the cold homeless. Both parties have their share of puppets who dance on the strings tied to big business and corporate lobbyists. If average Americans are looking for the beast that works to keep them downtrodden, they should look no further than the business section of the Wall Street Journal.