Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Anti-Government Crowd

Loosely, as a follow-up to yesterday’s blog concerning the slide to the right by the GOP, this blog will center on one of the rallying cries of this far right movement. Again, I will refer to a comment made by David Frum on last Friday’s Bill Maher show. He stated that while Reagan and Bush 41 were certainly more conservative than our current president, they believed in the institution of government. They believed in the sense that the government is a duly elected creation of we, the people, and as such should be viewed as a tool for the betterment of the citizens. It was during Reagan’s administration that the law requiring medical providers to give health services to anyone in need, regardless of insurance status was enacted. And more than once during the term of Bush 41 was the phrase compassionate conservative used to describe his policies of assisting those Americans who were in dire straits.

Now, as a camouflage for the far right wing of the republican party whose only goal is to paint Obama as a radical leftist, the very institution of government is being attacked. Advocates for eliminating various government departments such as the EPA, the education department, and the department of energy, etc in the name of “smaller is better”, seem to reflect the old adage of throwing the baby out with the bath water. (Curiously, the actual size of the government, the actual number of govt. employees has not changed all that much since Reagan’s presidency, except for the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, an expansion done under Bush 43). It is as if they believe, at least as long as Obama is the president, government is bad to the point that it can’t be fixed. As if having no government is a better alternative.

The real debate should revolve around how effective our government is in promoting the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness for its citizens. A perfect example relates to our national defense. Few, if anyone, advocate eliminating the department of defense. Most of us recognize that we need a strong defense to allow Americans to feel safe in their daily lives. However, how much we spend in this area, and when should we resort to armed conflict are questions we should debate. Those of us who propose spending less on national defense do so because we believe that by diverting too much resources to this one area, we hamper the citizens of America by spending less than necessary on areas such as education, preventive health care, and aid to the truly unfortunate.

As an aside, I personally believe that there are many Americans who have missed one of the biggest lessons in regards to why America won the Cold War, and why Russia lost. We had the capacity to outspend Russia and so they went bankrupt. During Reagan’s 8 years as president, defense spending peaked at 7% of GDP in the mid-80’s. It declined to 6% by 1990, once the fall of Berlin and the breakup of the Soviet Union had occurred. Clinton continued this trend (his critics called it “gutting” the military), as defense spending by 2001 was down to 3.6% of GDP. Now, I know that one can use statistics to “prove” almost any point, but is it a coincidence that the 1990’s featured the biggest expansion of the US economy in decades?

Of course, after 9/11, Bush 43 ramped up defense spending.  Understanding that 9/11 changed everything, and accepting the concept that increasing defense spending was necessary to fund the war on terror, should we not still question whether we should have returned to spending 6% of GDP in this war? And, should we not accept that our national debt will increase, just as it did under Reagan, if we are going to spend this much money? The missing link to the lesson I refer to is that the victors of the Cold War, the United States, may share the fate of the losers if we don’t speed the diversion of military spending back to civilian pursuits, i.e, infrastructure improvements, education, cleaner energy, health care for all, etc.

But I digress.

Again, the question is, regardless of size, is the United States government doing enough to allow its citizens the freedom to pursue life, liberty and happiness?

If we use this question to evaluate, say the EPA, we might certainly find that there are times when an EPA regulation stifled a business enterprise in the name of an obscure animal or plant. We might also find that a regulation that keeps lead-based paint out of our homes reducing lead poisoning in or children. Or an EPA regulation that prohibits DDT from being sprayed on our lawns and playgrounds. So again, someone who thinks eliminating the EPA, and someone who cheers when that statement is made, has decided that it is OK for our children to get lead paint or DDT into their systems as long as even one business might be frustrated in its plans to mine the land or drain an estuary.

As has been said by so many, democracy is advanced citizenship, and freedom requires advanced responsibility. When is my freedom to sell a product more important than the health of children? When is the existence of a threatened bird or animal more important than a new strip mall? Without our government to weigh the consequences and make the best choices, without an electorate who is involved enough to choose who those people making these important choices should be, and without citizens who recognize that sometimes a decision will be made that is better for most, but not for all, and not always for them, then we pretend to idolize democracy while actually preferring a dictatorship that always governs in a way that adheres to our particular perspective.

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