An obscure Congresswoman voiced the real goal of conservatives in forcing the shutdown of a wide swath of the Federal government today. “People are going to realize they can live with a lot less government,” Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) told Fox News. Therein lies the hope of the Right.
Conservatives — whether extreme fringers like the Tea Party or traditional right-wing thinkers — are unified behind one idea that is embodied in Henry David Thoreau’s famous observation that, “That government is best which governs least.” They prefer that the Federal government’s powers be strictly limited to those that are specifically enumerated in the Constitution.
Whatever we may think of their political calculus (almost certainly wrong) or their rationality (difficult to see through all the posturing), forcing a temporary partial shutdown of the government as a demonstration that their core philosophy is correct and even beneficial is perfectly in accord with their stated philosophical position.
As a tactic, I suspect it will harm their chances in the 2014 elections where, historically, we’d expect the GOP to make significant gains in both houses of Congress. I also believe that millions — perhaps tens of millions depending in part on how long the shutdown is allowed to continue — will be directly and significantly harmed by the shutdown. Those — myself often included — who believe the Right just doesn’t care about those people may in fact be right, but I suspect that attitude is a bit nuanced. It is that they care less about those people in the near term than they do about what they see as the benefit of smaller government in the long term.
Absent the histrionics and name-calling in which they have engaged, you could almost conclude that their stand — at least for many of them — is actually somewhat principled.
I thought this might be a joke or an urban legend. But I checked it out and, unbelievably enough, If you live in Nelson, Georgia, you’re now required by law to keep a loaded gun in your home.
The Brady Campaign has filed suit against the city, which says that the new ordinance is “mostly symbolic.” Symbolic of what? Ignorance? Pro-violence principles?
Regardless of which side you’re on in the gun safety/gun rights debate, this idea has to make you cringe. And it’s yet another example among mounting mountains of such ideas that the Red states that comprise the conservative movement in this country are lying through their teeth when they tell you they want a government small enough to shrink in a bathtub. What they really want is a government that’s just the right size for them to insert their bureaucratic noses into your business wherever they wish but that cannot force them to do things like pay taxes, obey basic laws about auto and driver registration, and otherwise interfere with their personal freedoms.
No wonder they are collectively the laughingstock of the civilized world.
I have a couple of friends who are libertarians (at least with a small "l") in their political philosophies. They keep hammering on the Tea Party line that the government doesn't belong in this or that field of endeavor, or that the government is any good at doing one thing or another. They suggest we leave even such traditional government tasks as disaster relief to charity or private enterprise. I don't know how they expect that those sources can gear up quickly enough, muster enough resources, establish appropriate responses, monitor potential fraud and the myriad other things involved in such an undertaking without creating themselves a huge bureaucracy that stands always ready to move into action. But I'll leave that question for a future debate.
For now, it has been occurring to me more and more lately that part of the Social Contract between us and our governmental institutions centers on our mutual appointment of the government as our surrogate in such matters. We'd like to contribute money to all of these events, but particularly in the early going when chaotic communications and continuing crises make it difficult, we might not be able to figure out how best to get our money to what resource manager. Furthermore, it wouldn't be feasible for millions of us to figure out what's going on in an area of disaster, what is most needed, how best to get it there and how our checks might best be allocated. For this, we pay taxes and task the government with the responsibility of being on top of these situations, planning for them in advance, responding quickly and appropriately to the needs, and administering the aid.
Is the government always good at that? Nope. But neither is private enterprise. Besides, how in the world could private companies figure out how to make such activity flow to their bottom lines, which is where they do all their thinking? Private charities might be somewhat better off, but their funds are always depleted and quick reaction in the first 24-48 hours of a disaster — when action is crucial and not always clear — is just not their forte.
We vote at the ballot box to elect people who will make and oversee a government that will be efficient and effective. We vote with our taxes to enable the government to stand in for us in handing out aid when and where it's needed.
In a very real sense, we are the government, so to say the government can't or shouldn't do something is to limit ourselves and our power unnecessarily. Unless you think, as some conservative politicians and pundits suggested after the recent tornado tragedy in Joplin, that people who fall victim to such disasters ought to be on their own, opposing government intervention just doesn't smack of sound thinking to me.