A survey of history reveals that lies, such as the current GOP attempt to convince Americans that somehow all government is tyranny or waste, were not always what drove the Republican Party. Deception was not always the main fuel for their political machine. At one point, in fact, Republicans weren’t just crusaders against government itself; they used to be considered the voices that kept government honest.
“Remember Republicans?” asked television showrunner and producer John Rogers on his personal blog. “Sober men in suits, pipes, who’d nod thoughtfully over their latest tract on market-driven fiscal conservatism while grinding out the numbers on rocket science. Remember those serious-looking 1950’s-1960’s science guys in the movies—Republican to a one. They were the grown-ups. They were the realists” Rogers wrote.
Despite his light tone, Rogers makes a serious point. Sadly, however, those Republicans are gone. A few relatively sensible holdouts remain, but most have been replaced by candidates who are conspiracy theorists, anti-government alarmists, science deniers, corporatists masquerading as populists, and the sort of racists and sexists who would have certainly disgusted Dwight Eisenhower and Barry Goldwater, and likely Ronald Reagan as well.
The current Republican tactic is to reduce everything to two choices: either you want to weaken the government and reduce its social programs as much as possible, or you are a Socialist-Marxist (and possibly an Islamist, apparently.) This destructive alarmism is not only a false choice, but a false division that turns more Americans against each other by the day.
In order to dismantle the lie behind modern American Conservatism, it is necessary to restate an obvious fact: governments and private entities are good at different things.
Saying so is not revealing anything new, but many people in this country seem to believe the lie that all government is parasitic and inefficient, and they vote Republicans into office who frighten them with the twin spectres of socialism and tyranny. Pundits and concerned citizens alike are infected with this anti-government Tea Party nonsense and alarmism. If Republican lies are repeated enough, people believe them. Otherwise intelligent, well-intentioned people parrot fraudulent talking points.
Here on the Guardian Express, one columnist in the Political Right section recently wrote that the only alternative to America embracing extremist Conservatism is “a continued march towards Marxist dictatorship.”
If falsehoods are to be dispelled, this simple truth—that there are some things governments do better, and some things private companies do better—bears explanation, in the simplest terms possible.
Obamacare, for example, has proven that, in general, a private business is going to do a better job rolling out a mass consumer website than a government program. In this case, a bureaucratic morass of competing interests took priority over function, and delays and dysfunction have been the result.
By contrast, the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration are government agencies that tend to do their job pretty well. They save and improve lives by tracking threats to our health, warning people about them, and using legal authority to combat them. They could not do so on the necessary scale if they were corporations or mere local businesses. You need a central government to accomplish these things.
At its best, government is where people come together to achieve greatness. History illustrates this point with obvious examples. It wasn’t big business that won World War II. It wasn’t just private individuals, acting independently for their own profit, who ended slavery. It wasn’t just a single state who put the first man on the moon; it was the United States.
Besides, there are some things even the largest corporations would not want to do, even if they had the resources. The building of an interstate highway system of roads and bridges in the 20th Century, for example, was not profitable in and of itself. Today, however, the ability to move goods reliably across long distances at a relatively low expense is a source of profit for just about every large business in America. That, in turn, increases employment and energizes the economy. In fact, it is hard to imagine the current U.S. economy functioning without it. While an individual company might build some roads to connect its facilities, it would not make sense for a private business to undertake such a massive project at no direct profit, especially not one that also benefits all of its competitors. Things like that are why we need a national government.
That doesn’t mean government should do everything. Far from it. Other countries, for example, have state-run media, such as newspapers and TV stations controlled by the government. These end up being vehicles for propaganda from whoever is currently in charge of the government. As biased and dysfunctional as most media outlets are in this country, they are infinitely preferable to the leading news outlets in a country like Russia, where all three major news channels are, in one way or the other, under state control.
Obviously, in the U.S., MSNBC and Fox News are both propaganda outlets for one political party or the other (Left and Right, respectively,) as are many others, but even they are not directly in the pocket of a particular leader or group the way the biggest information outlets in Russia are all in the thrall of Vladimir Putin. Privately owned news media are, for the most part, a better way.
This seemingly obvious point has been stretched out, at the risk of belaboring it, in order to illustrate the absurd disservice the Republican extremists are doing to America, but hopefully, we can all agree on this basic fact: while there many things private citizens or businesses can do better individually, there are also some things a civilized country can do better together, via their government, as one nation. The Constitution created our system of government in recognition of this basic principle.
The debate between Democrats and Republicans used to be over which things government did better and which things it didn’t. When candidates and elected officials argued, they were essentially fighting over where the line should be, negotiating complex boundaries between the public sector and the private sector. Generally, Republicans leaned towards private companies doing more, and Democrats leaned towards government doing more.
This was a debate worthy of a great nation. Until some point in the 1970s, this was the central axis of American politics. But those days, sadly, are gone.
Many have pined for those Republicans of yesteryear: the realists, the economic wonks and masters of foreign policy and realpolitik who got things done and kept pie-in-the-sky liberals from indulging their idealism at the expense of everyday people.
In the same blog post quoted above, Rogers—the writer behind the TV series Leverage and hit films like Michael Bay’s 2007 Transformers—describes yesterday’s Republicans further, writing, “’Who’s going to pay for this?’ they’d say, frowning over national budgets. ‘Where are the facts? The research?’ They’d take out their little red pens and buzzkill our little dreams of nationalized health care or solar-powered windmills or maglev trains, and then go back to banning pornography while secretly screwing around on their wives. But you know what? A lot of times, they were right. We needed those guys.”
Needed or not, those Republicans are history. The party of Lincoln and Eisenhower no longer represents the simple hypothesis that private industry is often more efficient than government. It has been transformed. Today, it champions the idea that the system of leadership created by our founders in the Constitution is only responsible for two things, controlling Americans’ sexual behavior, and fighting wars.
Otherwise, the 21st Century GOP’s argument is simple: that all government, but specifically the U.S. government, is intrinsically inefficient, tyrannical, and—for lack of better word—evil.
However, the modern GOP crusade to diminish or cripple the federal government—and ask you to vote them into federal government jobs so they can do so—is neither their party’s traditional role, nor a return to basics. For most of American history, the debate between parties was about what government should do, not whether or not government should simply do as little as possible.
The current attempt to sort American voters into two categories—small government Libertarians with paradoxically extremist social agendas on the one side, pinko Communist traitors cashing welfare checks on the other—is a new and pernicious lie, a destructive force, and an unpatriotic disservice to the American people.
In a future column, we will examine this particular deception in more detail.
Republican Lies Revealed – All Government is Tyranny is the first in a series of opinion articles seeking to examine and debunk dishonesty in the modern Republican Party.
By: Jeremy Forbing
Photo By: Gage Skidmore