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Monday, February 15, 2010

Big Government: Boogieman

Big government is the new boogieman. Or should I say the old one. Ronald Reagan famously said that government is the problem, and this simplistic statement has found resonance with generations of conservatives, from the greedy elites, who adore the fallacies of trickle-down economics, to the angry populists of the tea party movement.

When it comes to the tea partiers, their new-found hysteria over deficits underscores how well they’ve been manipulated by the likes of Beck and Hannity, because during Bush’s 8 years, while deficit spending soared, not least because of unprecedented tax breaks for the super rich that yielded little for the middle class, the tea partiers, the pundits, and the Republican congressmen and senators who now loudly decry Obama’s deficit spending were all curiously silent. In fact, those elected officials were actually complicit, voting for drug bills, increased privatization, boondoggle arms procurements, no bid contracts, tax breaks, and, of course, ill-fated military adventures, all of which cost every tax payer dearly. Now they shed crocodile tears and have become born-again fiscal conservatives.

And the average Joe on the street has likewise once again caught the fever of fiscal conservatism; Except when it comes to his tax breaks; Or our obscene and ultimately untenable military budget; Or the two wars that are costing more than all of the fiscal stimulus plans put together.

What’s more, that same man on the street, who somehow feels that taxes are an unnecessary burden, expects the National Guard to save his house from floods, the forest service to protect his home from wildfires, the military to protect him from foreign aggression and domestic insurrection; Somehow.

Even more of a disconnect becomes apparent when you study the demographics of these fiscal conservatives. They dominate the red states that voted for Bush Cheney, and also for McCain Palin. But most of the red states are fiscal leaches, net beneficiaries of federal funding to states. In fact, some 76% of the states that voted for Bush in 2000 are pigs at the federal trough, taking far more than their fair share. Some of the worst offenders include that fiercely independent state, North Dakota, which gets over 2 dollars back from evil big government for every dollar it puts in. Mississippi, which nets $1.84, and of course, when you include their unshared oil revenues, America’s biggest socialist experiment and welfare state, Alaska.

And the biggest losers? Places like New York, Massachusetts, and California. Those miserable liberals who want to waste people’s hard-earned tax dollars are wasting them on… subsidizing born-again populists who keep whining about the bloated federal government while they feast on its largesse. It’s so ironic as to be laughable, but I’m not laughing. At a tea party meetup the other day, a speaker accused the federal government of ‘stealing our hard-earned tax dollars to send to those liberals back east’ – an almost complete inversion of the facts.

But let’s not confuse these folks with the truth. The fact is that almost all of the Bush tax cut money went to the super-rich. A stunning 1.8 trillion dollars, a sum that exceeds even the health care bill. That, plus his reckless war in Iraq has cost the American taxpayer far, far more than any Democratic president in modern history, but that’s another inconvenient truth.

Ironically, what damaged Bush’s reputation the most was not his profligate spending and mad cowboy disease warmongering. What really turned the American people against him was the failure of big government after Katrina. People were rightly incensed that the most powerful country in the world seemed completely helpless and useless. Some even blamed big government for this, pointing out that Wal Mart and other non-governmental organizations provided speedier, more efficient aid. But they missed the larger point: the capable James Lee Witt, director of FEMA during the Clinton administration, was sacked by Bush and replaced with the clueless, do nothing, fiddle-while-Rome-burns ,‘Brownie’, Michael Brown. Under Bush, FEMA’s budget was slashed, and it once again became a dumping ground for political appointees, hacks like Brown who were owed favors. It wasn’t big government by its nature that failed the residents of the Gulf coast, but rather the hollowing out of big government, which has been destroyed by privatization, budget cuts, and cronyism.

If the tea partiers really want to put their money where their mouth is, they should start sending our government the money they’re stealing from the liberals back East.