"Small Government Conservatism" has been THE GOP mantra ever since Reagan gave out with his famous pronouncement on "the government isn't the solution to your problems, it IS the problem," or words to that effect. This mantra today resonates from the so-called "sensible" Republicans in the Joe Scarborough (of "Morning Joe, in case you didn't know) mold to the most far-out of the Tea Partiers like Rep. Steve (8-year-old-undocumented-immigrants-have-calves-the-size-of-footballs-from-toting-drugs-across-the-desert [or words to that effect]; my-you-speak-English-well [to a couple of Dreamers who came to the US as infants]) King of Iowa.
Before going on to the discussion of the substance of this column, let me say that I think that it must be understood that the difference between today's "mainstream" Republican Party, led by such eminences as John (gay-marriage-is-a-sin-because-the-Bible-tells-me-so) Boehner and Mitch (I-will-filibuster-any-bill-I-don't-like, said-in-December, 2008) McConnell and the "Tea Party" is solely a matter of style and rhetoric, not substance. They have the same agenda, to first and foremost serve the interests of their paymasters. That is, of course, a group of named and nameless leaders of the dominant wing of the US ruling class, for which the Koch Brothers make an oh-so-convenient twin figurehead. Those true interests are reflected precisely in just what the GOP/TP actually means when it talks about "Small Government Conservatism." The Tea Party is simply a very useful GOP Front/diversion, designed (and it was indeed designed, by such figures as former GOP House Majority Leader Dick Armey [1995-2003]) to make the GOP's very-central-to-its-true-meaning far-Rightedness, seem just perhaps not-so far-Right.
Just Say No. Reagan: the original .small government conservative,. (except of course, for those big government programs he just happened to like. .Star Wars,. anyone?)
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Many liberals and even some progressives get into direct and/or indirect battles with such folk over the question of what indeed is the role of government, Federal, state and local, in a large country like ours, with the Constitution that we have. But to me, that discussion does our side no good. For in fact the GOP/TP is hardly for "Small Government Conservatism" across the board. They use the mantra to attack programs that they don't like. But in many sectors of our society, they are for precisely the opposite. And that is what the argument should focus on: the substance of what they are for and what they are against, not the formalistic "big government/small government."
So let's see what they mean when they talk about "shrinking the government." In no particular order, and for example, of course they would like to get rid of Social Security and replace it with some sort of private system through which the financial sector could make additional profits. Funnily enough, they hate the Affordable Care Act, just because it's got Obama's name on it (courtesy, of course) of their own propagandists, even though the principal function of the ACA is to help the private health insurance industry stay afloat.
They hate the IRS when it is doing its job, like trying to determine if some organization that is seeking 501.c.4 status (so that it needn't reveal its donors) is actually doing "social welfare" work in addition to funding political campaigns. (In reality, the current GOP-controlled Congress --- yes under the minority rule that holds in the Senate the GOP does for the most part control Congress, has made sure to cut IRS funding in areas like the ability to audit the returns of persons with high incomes.) They are well on their way to eviscerating Medicaid. Some would like to shut down the National Parks and Forests Services and turn them into opportunities for private development. They cut the funding for the VA and scream about how Obama is "short-changing our veterans." And so on and so forth for government services that help to make the lives of our nation's citizens better in one way or another.
Of course the most important target for the GOP/TP is government regulation, of the environment, of the workplace, of transportation, of pharmaceuticals, of a wide variety of manufactured goods, and especially of the economy and the financial sector that is such an important part of modern US capitalism's focus for profit-making. Just let the (so-called) "free market" (which of course exists only in their imaginations) do its thing, and all will be well --- no matter how many harmful drugs are released, defective and unsafe automobiles are sold, oil spills on the land and at sea there are, coal mines collapse, chemical-plant explosions occur, and most especially how much additional carbon is released into the air and water. The latter is of course the Koch Brothers' dream and the nightmare for the rest of us.
So. Get rid of "Big Government" and all will be well, in the GOP/TP mantra. However, the important point here is that Republicans actually love big government, when it is doing what they want done. They love government when it produces by far and away the world's largest military and the profits that go along with supplying it. They love big government when it provides huge subsidies for the agricultural and fossil fuel industries. They love big government when it picks out certain Recreational Mood Altering Drugs (RMADs) to make illegal and then constructs the world's largest prison system to incarcerate a predominantly non-white element of the population that trades in them and uses them. Indeed the so-called "Drug War" not only disproportionately imprisons non-whites for "drug offenses" (when the white/non-white rates of use are about the same), which serves to bolster the racism on which the GOP runs (e.g., their support of police violence in the matter of Ferguson, MO.). It also has created a huge, highly profitable, private prison system. Big Government at work once again.
And then there is the Big Government that uses a doctrine based purely in certain religious beliefs which would, if they GOP had their way, deny women the right to choose to have an abortion within the pregnancy time-frame determined by fetal viability. And while they are working to develop the basis for overturning Roe v. Wade, the GOP/TP in a number of states has literally extended government into the vaginas and uteri of women seeking to have abortions. Furthermore, although they are gradually in the process of losing on this one, for many years, again using religiously-based doctrine, the GOP has run on denying gay couples equal access (see the 14h Amendment) to the civil law on marriage that is on the books in every state. Big Government in action again.
And so, in the final analysis, the argument with the GOP/TP should never be about "big government/small government." It should always be about what the government should be doing in terms of policy and practice, in terms of programs, for whom and why, and who is actually for what, in terms of "big government/small government."