The Government We Want

Author: Gary Hart

It all gets down to whether you think there are times when our government must take action to stimulate growth, provide a ladder of opportunity, and establish fair rules. Conservatives do not approve of government–except in its military and law enforcement role. Progressives believe markets do not necessarily guarantee opportunity or fairness and that, in periods of downturn, our government can and must take steps to provide a safety net and a hand up.

No conservative is willing to deny the effectiveness of the post-World War II G.I.Bill, the national highway system, the inventions from national laboratories, or a wide array of other public programs that have transformed our society. Very few still want to abolish Social Security or Medicare. If you add all government operations that a large majority, including most conservatives, agree on, it seems that “big government” may be code words for helping the poor. Conservatives want to cut taxes, especially for the wealthy, but they have still not provided a list of specific programs they wish to abolish. That is because they would almost all be public assistance to the poorest in society and they would not, added together, lead even close to a balanced budget.

So, we must continue to hear, and surely will during this election, rhetorical attacks on “big government”, “wasteful spending”, and “tax and spend” without any specificity. And it must constantly be repeated that the President and every member of Congress are elected by a majority of people in our nation and a majority of voters in respective districts and States. We, the people, elect our government. And, it must be pointed out again, the size of the national government does not decrease under conservative administrations.

Because there will be no conservative description of what government services they wish to abolish, we will instead witness continued personal attacks on President Obama as a “socialist”, a “Muslim”, and an alien sent from outer space to destroy America. We are all familiar with these tactics from grade school playgrounds.

So, the quarrel of conservatives is not with “big government”, which they themselves participate in electing and which is the product of majority will. It is with their fellow citizens who refuse to accept their basic belief that we can somehow flourish with a government composed primarily of the Department of Defense and the FBI. It is said we get the kind of government we deserve. It could better be said that we, a majority of Americans, get the kind of government we want.

11 Responses to “The Government We Want”

  1. Debbie Lackowitz Says:

    After listening to President Obama’s SOTU speech last night, your post seems so on target. By the way, loved the speech (and the ‘Giffords hug!). We DO get the government we want. But the next question then becomes really important. Why? Why are folks as Thomas Frank has said in “What’s the Matter with Kansas?”, voting against their ‘best interests’ (Republican)? Well, Frank Luntz for one. Hey, I’m not dissing the guy. I want him on OUR side! He’s good at what he does. He tells them what to say, how to say it and how to ‘frame it’. He hits the ‘sweet spot’. Using those ‘code words’ you mentioned. And it’s not just ‘big government’ either. How about Newt in South Carolina? The infamous ‘Food Stamp President’? Oh, if that doesn’t just conjure up ‘welfare queens, Cadillacs and the rest’! The ‘race card’? Oh yeah, you BET! But unfortunately for Newt, black folks are not the predominant group using food stamps. Whites are. Yeah, the Great Recession and all that. But he got his point across, didn’t he? You betcha! The facts are, until the Democrats can find a way to ‘sell’ their message, this is gonna be the way it is. Now President Obama WAS eloquent last night. Of course he was! But who was listening? Will his (our) message ‘get out’? I hope so. It’s SO important. The great inequity of wealth in the country IS the problem. It’s making us into a ‘third world’ nation whether we realize it or not. And worst of all; WE voted for it. I don’t actually mean me (or you for that matter). I mean the ‘majority’ that voted. It’s all gonna come down to who turns out this November.

  2. Jim Engelking Says:

    We get what we are willing to fight for and what we commit ourselves to win. Politics is not beanbag. There is no such thing as “free market capitalism.” There is “vulture capitalism” of the kind in which Mitt Romney and hundreds of other private equity and hedge fund managers made their fortunes. There is “crony capitalism” of the kind the Bushes and Cheneys and Gingrichs made their fortunes. There is “phony capitalism” and “corrupt capitalism” of the kind that uses credit default swaps and other financial gimmicks to make and lose electronic fortunes around the world, and which have destroyed our housing industry, banking and financial systems, and sovereign wealth in secret, unregulated, still unaccounted and uncontrolled after all these years. But “free market capitalism” is long gone, if it ever really existed. Money has corrupted our politics to the point that our system no longer functions, except to serve big money. 2012 will be fraught with danger for our nation, unless we the people can come together as people, without labels, and demand an end to partisan infighting. If we cannot work together, we are doomed. Capital will go elsewhere. Capital is free to do that. We are not in control of it.

  3. Tim Davidson Says:

    Senator Hart,
    First, I believe that you are taking a page from our current President in terms of using straw man to support your position. While I am NOT a conservative, I have heard many proposals from those folks about specific programs that should be cut (see Mitt Romney’s recent debate error). A more Libertarian view with a very comprehensive list of programs to be cut can be found at http://www.downsizinggovernment.org/
    Second, I would agree that Conservatives are just as guilty as Liberals in creating spending programs (they just do it in different areas).
    Third, the concept that we elect these folks is limited at best. Quite honestly, most folks hold their noses when they head into the ballot box as the choices are bad and worse (often with little difference between them).
    Consider from an objective standpoint our current President: He had NO experience at running any type of organization, he had spent his entire life on the public payroll (in one way or anther) and his main qualification was that he was elected to Senator. Most of our public servants couldn’t get past a basic resume screen in the private sector. And if you think that I am picking on Obama, Palin is just as bad if not worse.
    Fourth, according to the Center on Budget and Policy priorities, we spent 14% or $496 Billion of the Federal Budget on what they term as “Safety Net Programs” They state that this funding assisted a total of 44 million people. If you do the math, that was $11,272 per person assisted. I know of a large number of charity groups that could do miracles with that kind of money. Sadly, a large amount of this money never reaches the people it is intended to help.
    Finally, consider this important fact: WE ARE BROKE. One can have legitimate discussions on the level of public debit that is appropriate for a nation to have but we are rapidly approaching a level of public debit that is 100% of our GDP. I know of very few economists who would state that such a level is healthy or sustainable. Something has to give. And soon.

  4. Neal Taslitz Says:

    The presidential race will focus on the balance between capitalism and democracy. Attacks on democratic principles that call Democrats socialists, ignore the fact that no species on the planet has ever survived without some form of social support from their peers.

    Under an uncontrolled version of capitalism where only the fit survive, the species will not.

    I suggest we watch The March of the Penguins to learn the message we need to know to prevent another March of Folly.

  5. Tom Gee Says:

    There is work to be done. OCCUPY the ballot boxes.

  6. Gary Hart Says:

    In response to Mr. Davidson, the blog was an effort to simplify (necessary in the blog world, alas) the central difference between conservatives and what used to be called liberals (before the demeaning of that legitimate word) where the issue of the role of government is concerned. I also tried to provide illustration of major government programs that transformed our nation as a response to those who insist that government–that we elect–is our enemy. We may or may not like the ballot choices, but fellow Americans were involved in creating those choices, usually Americans who choose to be actively involved in the nomination process. I know from personal experience that it is far from a perfect system, but no one has come up with a better one. Finally, in times of crisis, and we are in one, deficits have soared as our government has protected us or attempted to pull us out of an economic ditch that an unrestrained private sector or global trends have created.

  7. MinerSam Says:

    I do not agree with your characterization of the “Conservatives”

    There is nothing conservative about the Republicans. And you should say if you are talkihng about the Republicans than call them Republicans.

    And as a much closer observer of reality than you are these days I can assure you that They have repeatedly proven themselves to be Radical Right Wing Totalitarians against We the People of the United States and every day of the week are fighting for Predatory standards for corporations (which they call “free markets”) I.E. The freedom to be Criminals while looting the Treasury of the United States!

    Furthermore: Since Reagan told us that our Government is the enemy They have been wanting to eliminate larges part of the Government we pay to Protect our interests and to Privatize the rest (which costs much more) on behalf of their benefactors!! These includes: Commerce, Education, Energy, and after
    GWB collected 1.6Trillion in Social Security SURPLUS he tried to get people
    to pay that money into Wall St. instead every week which would require borrowing another 5Ttillion to pay the over 55 and current recipients.

    Furthermore, to save money every Republican in control of the House already voted to privatize Medicare which would cost Average Seniors an extra $6,500 provided they negotiated pricing with doctors and insurers.

    As for their brainwashed voters: Did you not notice when — after sending them a PHONEY Health Care Bil that said things like: “A Government worker will come to your house to force you to buy health Care, and charge you $50 for every gun you own” — the Republicans sent their Brainwashees to interupt members of Congress in their districts saying things like: “Don’t
    you dare get the (terrible) Government to meddle with my Social Security”

    Gary, I find Your obliviousness to all of this scary!

  8. MinerSam Says:

    And didn’t you notice that after the Republicans defunded, demoted and destroyed FEMA (Under Clinton a highly effective Cabinet level organization)
    that 1500 died at Katrina?

    That after rendering The Minerals Management Agency destroyed (to hookers
    and drug dealers) we had a huge Oil Spill?

    After destroying The SEC, CFTC, FTC, preventing the regulation of Mortgage companies, and pushing for Chopped up mortgage “products” etc. We had a financial meltdown?

    Consumer Product Testing: Poison Toys?
    USDA, Fecal matter in meat?
    Firing of Air Traffic Controllers for daring to ask for overtime on 18 hour days == 1500 air crashes.

  9. Brendan Says:

    Sen. Hart,

    Thanks for your piece–I agree. The critique of conservative’s endless claims of “big government” are completely unhelpful. I’m in graduate school now, but I wrote about this same issue in a recent online article discussing my time in government; I called it “Everything Is Broken: My Two Years at the U.S. Department of State.” You can find it here if interested: http://www.nashvillescene.com/pitw/archives/2011/12/16/everything-is-broken-my-two-years-at-the-us-department-of-state

    Kind regards,

    Brendan

  10. Tom Gilmore Says:

    I have reviewed http://www.downsizinggovernment.org,, which appears to be sponsored by the CATO institute.
    I have learned the following from this Mr. Davidson’s link

    The federal government averaged spending on education nationwide was about 80 Billion
    (with 22 billion to ‘special education,, which includes blind, deaf, lame, emotionally troubled & hungry children)
    His organization advocates its elimination to save the US Government 800 Billion over 10 years

    Department of Agriculture (which provides food stamps & subsidizes many projects in our farmlands) never spent more than 100 billion until free market capitalism sent millions into poverty, & trillions to large banks. In 2011, Department of Agriculture spent 150 Billion
    CATO believes their plan can save 132 Billion annually (That is 1.32 trillion over 10 years

    The most interesting of downsizinggovernment.org is their review of ‘defense spending’
    I truly can’t believe Tim Davidson has a Christian soul.
    Department of Defense received well over 600 Billion per year since 2008, with increases every year since. This organization ‘downsizing government’ has been able to uncover 1.2 trillion in cuts over 10 years, which amounts to 120 billion per year
    The US Government under the direction George W Bush went to war in Iraq, when the leading experts (Hanz Blix / Scott Ritter) said it was impossible for WMD to exist. I need to mention that the US Government Defense out spent all other nations combined every year since 1964.
    The CATO institute endorsed the invasion of Iraq.
    In 1986 James Baker gave Saddam Hussien solid 24 karat golden revolvers as a gift from the People of the United States.
    Between 1983 &1986, Gary Hart was referring to Saddam Hussien as a THUG.

    I’d rather be brief & go on to other things now,, but I hope that Mr Davidson will review my thoughts.
    One more item would be to ask downsizinggovernment or any person here,
    - how much the defense department spent between 1991 & 2003 ?
    - how many children & other civilians died in Iraq between 1991 & 2003

    If we are spending 25% of our budget on interest payments on the debt, 25% of the budget on military items & if we are 15 trillion dollars in debt,, how does it make sense to eliminate funding our children’s education, while “level funding” the military (based on US Government funding on Military in 2008)

  11. Gary Hart Says:

    Mr. Gilmore recent comment is posted with this caveat: it is beyond the ability of any of us to judge what kind of soul another human does or does not have. There is a Biblical admonition against it. We can disagree on policy and the interpretation of facts. But judging souls is beyond the scope of any mortal’s mandate.

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