This is something that I’ve had rolling around in my head for awhile, and obviously if I’m writing on the topic, I think the answer is yes, at least to some extent. To be clear, I don’t think your typical conservative citizen wants their government to fail. I think the majority of citizens at both end of the spectrum mostly want a successful government in place. I’m specifically talking about the conservatives that are running things for their party. There are two statements I’ll kick things off with here. The first comes from popular conservative strategist and lobbyist, Grover Norquist.
“I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”
Grover Norquist, May 25, 2001
This comes from a man that is behind a lot of government initiatives, runs a super PAC influencing government, and helps conservatives get elected all over the country.
The second is from someone I think will be a pretty common source as I move forward because he’s the epitome of a ruthless, conservative ideologue for whom the ends always justify the means. Shortly after the republicans took control of Congress in the midterms, Mitch McConnell said this:
“The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
– Mitch McConnell, October 23, 2010
He said it, clearly and unapologetically. If a progressive elected official, particularly one in a leadership role with direct power over what the legislature does and doesn’t take up for consideration, had made that statement, conservative media would have had that clip plastered across the television screens and the radio waves every day until calls for the person’s resignation were deafening, and I’d have been calling for that resignation as well. I want a government that compromises. I want a government that functions. I want a government that can pass a real budget instead of continuing resolutions to kick the can down the road. The legislative rules were designed to force compromise among opposing ideas, and Speaker McConnell was telling his party that they were going to use those rules any way they could to ensure nothing of substance made it to President Obama’s desk.
Now, in response to a follow-up question, he did go on to say that compromise was an option if Obama completely switched directions from the way things had been going, and reached across the aisle himself, but actions speak way louder than words. I’ve already talked a bit about how the Affordable Care Act was passed in my article on the Trump tax plan, but it was hardly a one-sided affair. President Obama did try to find compromise in the beginning of his term and continued to do so after the midterms as well. I honestly believe he truly wanted to lead the country down a more progressive path, but he wanted to do it slowly, and convince the naysayers it is the right way to go, which is likely the only way to get it to stick when we do get there. He only hit the brakes on trying to be bipartisan after it became crystal clear that every step he took to the right led to the Republicans also taking a step to the right. They never actually moved any closer to each other. Hell, the entire ACA was modeled after a Republican plan put in place by a Republican governor.
That man was Mitt Romney, the man the Republicans ran against Obama in 2012, and he was so proud of his healthcare bill that it is one of very few things he had put in his official governor’s portrait with him, right next to a photo of his wife and the American flag. But then Obama took that Republican plan nationwide and Republicans are still fighting as hard as they can to get rid of it almost 8 years later. Conservatives hate it because it has a progressive’s signature on it. Progressives hate it because it didn’t go far enough.
Statements and actions like Speaker McConnell’s tell you clearly that the good of the people isn’t a consideration for the person. He was effectively saying, “Barack Obama’s presidency must be a failure. He can not be given anything he could claim as a victory, and we must be sure we don’t give him one.” After that, any time he votes no or directs his party to do so, you have to question it. Does he truly believe in his vote? Does he truly believe he’s making the right decision for the country? For his constituents? Or is his reasoning a lie? Is he only doing this because the alternative is letting his opponent claim a legislative victory and come into reelection with a record of bipartisan agreement? You can question motives for anyone and everyone, but people like Mitch McConnell leave everything out in the open. His motives are public because he made them so: party over country; victory at any cost. All he needs to do is gamble with the lives, freedom, and prosperity of the people he claims to represent along the way.
“But Malcolm!” you might say, “Mitch is one man. He hardly represents your typical conservative politician.” To that, I’d say, you’re mostly right, but two very similar people are in the primary conservative leaderships role of the legislature. Those two people have both served multiple terms, and are popular within their states. Both of them were elected to their position by the people that were elected to their positions by the citizens. Conservatives see that behavior and not only vote to keep it, but vote to give it more power on top of that. Even McConnell voters that don’t like that aspect of him are giving it their implicit approval. What you put up with, is what you stand for.
Here’s another example. Rick Perry, during his ill-fated 2012 run for president famously forgot one of the three government agencies that he wanted to shut down. He was going to shut down the Department of Education, the Department of Commerce, and…..umm….what was the third one again, Rick?
He clarified later that the third one that he forgot was the Department of Energy. Who is the Secretary of Energy today? Why, it’s Rick Perry. I can see how one might argue the case that a person who wants to do away with something is a good candidate to take the reins and restructure and improve it. I can hear that argument being made, but I believe there is a much stronger argument in the other direction, particularly when we’re talking about public service.
For starters, in Secretary Perry’s case specifically, he agreed to take the secretary nomination without knowing what the agency was responsible for, meaning on top of accepting the job offer, he also called for the shutdown of the agency in 2012 without knowing that it was responsible for maintaining and securing our nation’s nuclear arsenal. As the article I linked to explains, Secretary Perry took over the agency from Secretary Moniz, a former head of the physics department at M.I.T., who in turn had in turn taken it over from Secretary Chu, a Nobel prize winner in physics. Secretary Perry’s college career ended after he received his bachelor’s in Animal Science. That’s commendable for sure, but he clearly doesn’t have the educational background or experience of a typical overseer of the Department of Energy. He isn’t going to ultimately understand what he’s responsible for at a fundamental level without a lot of time on the job.
The second reason is something that applies to everyone, not just Rick Perry. Five short years ago, he believed that the agency he runs today was so broken, so devoid of purpose, that the best thing to do was to get rid of it altogether. Like Speaker McConnell, if Secretary Perry hadn’t said any of that during his presidential run, he’d likely be in the same position he is today. He’d probably be running the Department of Energy in the same exact way he is today, with the same beliefs about its potential efficacy that he holds now. Hopefully those have evolved by now, but still, neither I nor any of you would be any the wiser. However, like Speaker McConnell, he made his beliefs public, and due to those beliefs, I am unable to believe that he would put his best effort into his public service, and ensure that the agency does everything it can to efficiently provide the regulations, services, and support that it was created to provide. A person with beliefs that contradict the role and purpose of the position they’re in should absolutely be disqualified from the position, regardless of political position. You wouldn’t put a superintendent that publicly claimed we needed to privatize our country’s education system in charge of a public school (though Donald Trump might make her Secretary of Education…) anymore than you would put a doctor who strongly believed homeopathy was superior to modern medicine in charge of a hospital. Like that superintendent and that doctor, Rick Perry isn’t fit for his position because his beliefs are served in the failure and dismantling of the Department of Energy.
His line of thought is pretty typical coming from conservatives. You’ll hear them spout that government can’t be trusted with things like regulation, charity work, education, or healthcare, or any other amount of responsibility. Ronald Reagan has one of the more famous lines about it.
“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”
– Ronald Reagan, August 12, 1986
They usually back up that sentiment with explanations that either the government officials are too corrupted by their power and have an ulterior motive in anything they do or they’re so bogged down with bureaucracy that they can’t be effective; there’s too much red tape. Going back to Mr. Norquist’s sentiment, since government can’t be effective, regardless of the reason, we might as well dismantle it. We can’t let the government take any more control from us and we should elect people that will take power from that government and give it back to the people.
I’d have to disagree with that sentiment, across the board, because it’s all bullshit. Power doesn’t corrupt. Power attracts corruption. A morally corrupt person is going to seek out where they can be most effective, where they can get the most bang for their buck. One crazy example off the top of my head might be a shady real estate tycoon that owns resorts and golf courses running for president. Once elected, he might not divest himself from his private holdings, then vacation at his own resorts while billing the government for his staff and security to stay there, effectively funneling taxpayer dollars directly into his own pocket as a direct result of his own actions every single day he spends there. On top of all that, he might also sign tax breaks into law that give big breaks to real estate tycoons, private jet owners, and golf course entrepreneurs (of which he is all three) and then congratulate a group of his peers on how much richer he just made all of them.
The government we have today, and the two parties that make it up are more aptly described by a quote from one of P.J. O’Roure’s books.
“The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work, and then they get elected and prove it.”
P.J. O’Rourke, Parliament of Whores, 1991
The way I interpret the first part of that is that Democrats go overboard on the promises they make when they’re campaigning to a greater degree than their opponents, often painting a picture of a world that they know will never be possible with how our government works today. The second part is the entire point of my article here; that conservative’s seem to go the route of “Elect me and I’ll show you that government doesn’t work.”
That’s where the systems of checks and balances our founders put into place are so important. When you see a broken government, the patriotic response isn’t apathy or a call to dismantle it because it’s broken. The patriotic response is to fix it. We are a country of the people, by the people, for the people. Our government isn’t a separate entity for us to point at in anger; it *is* us. It’s me. It’s you. It’s your siblings, your parents, your friends, and your neighbors. This government is our fault and it’s on all of us to make it good, and I know our government can be good. It can serve it’s purpose of protecting and providing for our individual, basic human rights, and it can do it efficiently and altruistically.
I read an answer to a question on Quora recently that had put it into a perspective that I hadn’t considered before. I unfortunately can not find again and didn’t save, though I thought I had. If you came across it, too, and have it, please send it my way so I can put the link here. The author essentially explained the role of government is often looked at in reverse of what it actually is. I’m paraphrasing, but he explained that government regulations and laws don’t take rights away from us, they give them to us; “us” being the citizens of the American society. Everything from where companies can dump waste, or what they can pump into the air or underground to where planes are allowed to go and land, or what guns private citizens can possess, or anything else you can think of …all of it is imposed by us, because we are the government. We the people impose limits on the few to benefit, if not everyone, then at least the vast majority of us. Our government is us giving ourselves the right to the benefits that come from the regulations and laws put into place to ensure the people and entities targeted by those regulations and laws don’t take away our rights to things like clean air and water that won’t make us sick.
There is no perfect government, but there are governments in existence today that are doing this better than we are, and their citizens are routinely happier than we are with both their government and their personal lives. Welfare, charity, energy, healthcare, and education can absolutely be handled better by public, accountable offices than it can be by private entities. You just have to get the people that believe in that and want that running the show; people that know the geographic area they’re in charge of and how best to apply their resources to fix the issues they’re responsible for. People that want something to succeed are going to do their damnedest to make sure it happens when given the opportunity. Our country can progress, but apathy isn’t sustainable. We need to turn up. We need to call our representatives and tell them we hold them accountable. We need to run for office. We need to make our message clear. We need to vote.
Thanks for stopping by,