Guess Who Wants Big Government
"Read my lips: No new taxes!" the first George Bush proclaimed to an ecstatic Republican National Convention.
Conservative Republicans, galvanized by their candidate's commitment to small government, voted their candidate into the White House, where he proceeded to sign one of the largest tax hikes in history. Bush is now remembered as a hypocrite, a failure and a traitor to the conservative movement.
Yet Bush's hypocrisy was by no means anomalous. Bush followed in the footsteps of Ronald Reagan, a man who lauded the virtues of a free market that he wouldn't allow to exist. Reagan massively increased military spending while failing to cut social spending, creating a massive deficit, the beginning of our modern debt crisis.
Intent on protecting American industry from foreign competition, Reagan raised tariff rates and set import quotas. Free-market economist Sheldon Richman called him "the most protectionist president since Herbert Hoover." And, contrary to legend, Reagan did not cut taxes; he shifted them, lowering one tax as he raised another, so that tax revenues as a percentage of national income remained largely unchanged from 1980 to 1989.
So why do capitalists remember Reagan so fondly and Bush so terribly, if both presidents hypocritically expanded government? Because the economy performed well under Reagan and poorly under Bush. After sustaining a severe recession from 1981-1982, the American economy recovered dramatically, and the '80s became a period of prosperity.
Shortly after Bush entered office, however, financial chaos connected to the savings-and-loan crisis contributed to a global economic slowdown. Reagan did not cause the prosperity of the '80s (most of the credit goes to the Federal Reserve under Paul Volcker, a Democrat), and Bush cannot be blamed for the contractions of a global economy. But Reagan is still associated with prosperity, and Bush with poverty.
By emphasizing Reagan's free-market rhetoric and downplaying his big-government policy, capitalists can associate laissez-faire with prosperity in the public mind. By emphasizing Bush's policies and downplaying his rhetoric, capitalists can associate big government with destitution.
Capitalists, incidentally, have no objections to big government. Government has been an active player in the growth of corporations since the industrial revolution, and our economy is built on government subsidy and regulation.
So if government is so essential to our economy, why all the laissez-faire rhetoric? Corporations can use free-market rhetoric as a weapon against social spending. Government intervention is fine when it means corporate subsidies and protections. But if the government wants to give welfare to the poor, pass environmental laws, or provide universal health care, it has stepped out of line.
Afraid of competing with a public option, the executives of Blue Cross and Blue Shield preach that "the government that governs best governs least." But when the executives want to send their kids to public schools, drive on public roads, retire and collect Social Security, they somehow manage to forget the virtues of limited government.
Capitalists have used this double standard to shape the modern conservative movement. The tea party movement is an excellent example of capitalist philosophy in action.
Tea partiers have impugned President Obama as a "Nazi-communist" because of his health care reform, stimulus package and bailouts. Yet polls show that tea partiers hold a favorable view of George W. Bush, who expanded government more than any of his predecessors, and of Sarah Palin, who would like to massively expand the military-industrial complex through war with Iran.
Tea partiers' views on specific issues are even more telling: They vehemently oppose big government, except when that big government is necessary to invade Iran, occupy Iraq and Afghanistan, pay for Medicare and Social Security, provide public education, build and maintain public roads, actively deport illegal immigrants and execute criminals.
There is a viable alternative to big government: anarchism. Anarchists call for the abolition of the state, envisioning a society run by direct democracy and cooperative economics.
Anarchist theories are actually quite viable; cooperatives have been very successful within our society, and could very well function on a large scale. But anarchism also requires abolishing capitalism, corporations and private property. Conservatives, enamored with their ideals of entrepreneurship and the profit motive, are loathe to consider such a society.
But unless conservatives can embrace the principles of common ownership and cooperation, the conservative movement will remain as it is: committed always to big government for the rich and apathy for the poor.
Andrew Soboeiro is a rising senior at Pinecrest High School.
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