I’m Tired of the BS About Big Government

This is my response to Karen Tumulty’s bullshit article about the serious “philosophical divide” touched off by the “Great Society.”

“Philosophical divide” my ass. I am well old enough to remember the Johnson Administration. The “Great Society” amounted to extending the New Deal to everyone, regardless of race. White Americans who had been perfectly fine with big government while it was helping them saw the GS as a scheme to take money out of their pockets to benefit black Americans, and they weren’t having it. Their sudden scruples about “big government” were not the reason for their objections, but the excuse.

That’s also true today, as Republicans are always happy to increase the federal debt when it benefits the wealthy and are only fiscal hawks when they have to squeeze some money out of the budget for the “undeserving poor.”

Try to get real next time, Ms. Tumulty.

23 thoughts on “I’m Tired of the BS About Big Government

  1. The folks in the Appalachian region were the biggest supporters of FDR, SS and other New Deal programs – and after FDR’s death, the Democratic Party.
    They’ve been moving further and further from the Democratic Party, ever since the Civil Rights Movement, and the CRA’s and VRA’s.
    Now, they hate President Obama.
    Hmm… I wonder why?

    After JFK’s death, Republicans in both houses of Congress helped Northern Democrats get LBJ’s Great Society programs passed.
    Goldwater and other Conservatives had a conniption fit, and started to migrate away from the some of that nasty “empathy” and “inclusiveness” stuff that had helped African-American’s get real voting rights, and be eligible for more programs.

    Nixon started his “Southern Strategy” and “Silent Majority” – which was smart short-term political thinking, but bad for the long-term health of this nation.
    Reagan, after announcing his candidacy in Philadelphia, Mississippi (a town where three Civil Rights advocated were brutally murdered), took Nixon’s strategy, expanded it, and welcomed Dominionist Evangelical Christians into the Republican Party (a group that terrified even Barry Goldwater) – and the rest, as they say, is history.

    Race has always been, and still is, the major problem in this country.
    Racism justifies all sorts of things – even poor white racists cutting off their noses economically, to spite the own faces.
    And then, there’s misogyny and xenophobia (and homophobia, for all of the advances made in the last few years) – but those are for another post.

  2. Well, it’s true that there’s a philosophical divide over how big the government should be and what it should do. And unfortunately this hostility to big government runs all the way through our history. If you were a wealthy Virginian in 1787, for instance, then you might well wonder why you just freed yourself from one distant, meddling government in London only to set up another one in New York.

    But yes, of course philosophically it’s bullshit. Or rather right-wing opposition to big government isn’t really a philosophy at all but an ideology. It comes down to the idea that the question of how big the government should be has a right answer: smaller. How many people are inflexibly committed to the idea that the government must always be bigger? The government should be as big as we decide we want it to be. Democracy doesn’t have a right answer.

    That’s one way to put the more fascistic aspects of libertarianism in perspective. The Paulistas and so forth act as if freedom has a right answer.

  3. As they say, tell the truth and shame the devil. In this case, the “devil” is the conservative/tea bagger wing of the political spectrum, whose real motivation can be summed up in two words: greed and racism.

    For the “business wing” of the right, those who provide the wingnut welfare and keep the circus going, “smaller government” just means more money available for distribution upward. Its about the greed.

    This works for their base, even though that money is being redistributed out of their pockets as well, because it serves their hot button, in that lazy non-white persons are not benefiting off the “tax dollars of hard working people,” read white folk, like them. Never mind that they’re in just as bad shape as blacks and anyone else is at that social level. For them, its about the racism.

  4. It comes down to the idea that the question of how big the government should be has a right answer: smaller.

    Stephen.. What I’m confused about is the term “big government”. How is it understood? Does it mean physical size -the percentage of employees in relation to the overall population, or does it mean big government in the sense of intrusiveness into our lives? It seems to me that the term “big government” is used in an ambiguous sense when there are two distinct ways of interpreting the term.

  5. The folks pointing to the 50-year “failed” War on Poverty are ignoring that its reverses mostly occurred during the long cold winters of St. Ronnie and Bushes Poppy and Dubya. BS indeed.

  6. Erinyes – The founding fathers were opposed to a standing army, to the point that appropriations for an army (not navy) were time-limited in the Constitution to two years. The Civil War was fought by state militias – there was no standing federal army.

    Want to cut the federal budget by 22%? Dump the military and the expense of the military back onto the individual states, as the founders designed.

    Watch the tea Party types who declare the US Constitution is NOT a ‘living document’ that has to change with society – the same clowns who declare the intent of the founders inviolate (as if they had a borg-like unanimity) suddenly back pedal like maniacs in defense of a military state and the moral obligation of the federal government to fund it.

    • Doug — Actually, there was a small standing army during the Civil War, but I believe much of it stayed in the western territories to let the “volunteers” fight the war. Off the top of my head I don’t remember how the Confederates were organized, but fairly early on Lincoln and his commanders decided that the state militias weren’t cutting it, and after that men were enlisted into regiments that were organized specifically to fight the civil war, separate from the militias.

  7. Maha – I found this – Wikipedia..

    “When the [Civil] war began, the American standing army or “Regular army” consisted of only 1080 commissioned officers and 15,000 enlisted men.”

    So yes, you are right – there was a very small standing army. How they were dispersed, I don’t know. I think we would agree that in the era of the Civil War, 1861 – 1865, the military leaders and citizens identified strongly with their state. I don’t know of regiments in the Civil War that didn’t have state designations. (54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, for example) Fifty years later, by WWI – the identification of soldiers, military outfits and citizens was more national. The trend towards national identification undermines arguments based on ‘states rights’ which we hear. Take the trend in the other direction, to the origins of this country and the call from the founders to disband a large standing army is loud and clear.

    The neo-con is no product of the philosophy of the founding fathers, and those who want to shift the power and authority of a national government to the states – can start with the military, and tax their own local citizens for the cost. See how the philosophy, “Everything works better when it’s local” flies when taxes jump to pay for the beloved soldier. (I am a veteran – save any snark.)

  8. The “Great Society” amounted to extending the New Deal to everyone, regardless of race.

    In my opinion, you are precisely correct about this but no one wants to hear about it. White Southerners loved them some socialism as long as it meant Northern tax dollars flowing into their own pockets and the darkies were left out in the cold. Johnson’s crime was not just Civil Rights but spectre of economic equality as well.

  9. Well, if I had to file an 845 page tax return like mitt Romney did I might be inclined to feel some sort of resentment toward big government. As a matter of fact, I feel a twinge of oppression when I file my half page 1040A short form.

  10. Mitt could rather easily file a tax return with very few pages. The reason he doesn’t us that his accountants scramble for every tax break they can, resulting in his paying a far smaller percentage if his income than most Americans. He relishes the big government that makes big tax codes and big tax returns because lobbyists have made it crammed full of loopholes and this works to their advantage.

    And to answer swami’s question, in conservative parlance big government has the same meaning as ativist judge: someone doing something I don’t like.

  11. BTW, Dean Baker has a post at Beat the Press about this “philosophy” column and regularly calls out media write ups that purport to read minds and attribute actions to “philosophy” instead of just pointing out what the people are doing or proposing. I know most folks who read this blog are likely to read Dean’s as well, but for anyone who doesn’t yet it’s a must.

  12. I suppose I am just falling victim to confirmation bias and people on the right will do the same. But, the implementation of the ACA seems like a stellar example of the failure of some “conservative” chestnuts.

    The faulty website was the result of outsourcing the role of government to
    the private sector.

    The comparative success in implementing the program in the states that signed into the federal exchanges, expanded medicaid and/or developed their own, with the intent of meeting their citizen’s need for healthcare is striking in contrast to the states governed by people with want to scuttle the law. — I know this view of “success” would be fiercely opposed by the baggers and company. But, as the number of people whose lives and livelihoods have been saved by having adequate healthcare mounts, the alternative “success” of fighting some chimerical oppression will look increasingly foolish and brutal.

    The right MUST defeat or plunge this law into chaos, because the spectacle of real people dying, for the simple reason that they had the misfortune to reside in a “red” state will be a clear and resounding example of the follies of the conservative agenda. “States rights” seems a less attractive cause if you, or someone you know is dying because of it.

    I am insulated from some of the media, but, the propaganda coming from the right seems to be “turned up to eleven.” The right is “in for a penny, in for a pound,” and they are looking more ridiculous every day. Unfortunately, given the nature of our political discourse, that’s not the disadvantage that it should be.

  13. The faulty website was the result of outsourcing the role of government to the private sector.

    Another way to look at it is that there’s this idea the government is somehow fundamentally different in nature from any other human institution. Somehow corporations and religions are imagined to be immune from this tendency to incompetence and corruption that is unique to government. The slightest acquaintance with human history will show you that this is a bizarre fantasy, but there it is.

  14. Good point Stephen, as usual.

    It has always amazed me how easily Randian overlords are let off the hook when something goes obviously wrong. A former CEO is running for office, he or she is marketed as a “hands-on, engaged, savvy, manager.” Then some big debacle occurs and major corruption or criminality is brought to light. Then the CEO immediately transforms into “out of the loop,” honest but duped and mislead by his staff. The transition occurs in mere nanoseconds.

    When a TV revival preacher is caught doing something wrong, he runs for the “good man tempted by the devil” routine.

  15. And I’m tied of BS about race.

    Since Goldwater and William Buckley, the conservative movement has made it as clear as possible it was out to repeal THE WHOLE of American social democracy, from Social Security through all LBJ’s add-ons.

    It was NEVER just about the parts that “extended the New Deal to everyone, regardless of race.”

    It was ALWAYS about wrecking the whole thing, regardless of the races of the beneficiaries.

    I am tired of liberals misrepresenting a perfectly clear, decades long and essentially permanent class war as a race war because they think it’s better for votes.

    Just as I am tired of them misrepresenting the culture war over establishment/disestablishment of Christian morality in American law as a war of men against women, for exactly the same motive.


    • “It was NEVER just about the parts that ‘extended the New Deal to everyone, regardless of race.’”

      Yes, child, but attend, and listen: Until Johnson’s programs extended the New Deal to African Americans, most (white) Americans didn’t vote for politicians like Goldwater (see 1964 election results). After Johnson, in the minds of white Americans entitlement programs had a black face, and the subject of entitlements became much easier to demagogue. Nixon was brilliant at it; Reagan even more so.

  16. “And I’m tied of BS about race”

    I would argue it is not the liberals that make it about race. You are correct that republicants want to repeal all of the new deal etc. but they are the ones who disguise it in race, they use race as a way to get uneducated poor white folks to vote for them. I do not see a mass movement amongst liberals to paint the cons war on poor people just in terms of race?

  17. Philo….It’s not a war of men against women, it’s a war on women. I see the Huckabee was out there today leading a charge…Claiming that the Dems are saying that women can’t control their libido. Isn’t it strange that a woman’s right to control her own reproductive rights is twisted to make it seem like it’s about sexual desire?

    • Swami — As you know, we women are the Cosmic Libido Keepers. If it weren’t for us — feigning headaches, pressing aspirins between our knees, whatever — there would be no civilization, because the menfolk would never have had the time or energy to build it. I’m sure Mike Huckabee was praising us for all our good work and self-denial.

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