STEVEN JONAS, MD, MPH
And so, the "small government" folks are now firmly entrenched in the House of Representatives. As they were in the last Congress, through the filibuster rule they will never be too far from the levers of power in the Senate either. But boy, since the last election they have become more vocal than ever. First and foremost they tell us that the "American people" demand "small government" and told us so in the last election. Well, they hardly ever tell us precisely what it is they mean by "small government" other than "cutting taxes" (especially for the wealthy), "down-sizing" government functions (of the type they don't like), and de-regulation (of many corporate activities for which of course they don't supply specifics). Indeed, not too specific all around.
Further there is this "the American people demand" stuff. Well, about 42% of eligibles voted in the last election and the GOP numbers amounted to somewhere around 22% of the eligibles. But those are numbers no one seems to bring up. Of course with a media that characterized the GOP win in 1994 as "the Gingrich landslide" when 37% of the eligibles voted and the GOP got slightly more than half of them, what do you expect, except that would it be too much to expect that a Democrat or two would do so? Well, I guess so. And so we are subjected to the "the American people demand small government" bombardment, which also includes the claim that "the American people want repeal of the health care reform" when poll after poll shows that they do not.
But let's get back to this "small government" stuff, first raised when Reagan claimed that "government is the problem, not the solution." Of course, Reagan wasn't the only one. I remember cringing in my seat when in his first State of the Union Address, Bill Clinton, Chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council before he became President of the United States, said "the era of big government is over." Of course when the GOP/Tea-Party/Paulite (as in Ron and Rand, not Saint) uses/re-uses and over-uses the phrase, they are referring only to a certain particular set of Federal government functions, not just any or all of them.
These include: taxation (without bothering to tell us taxation for what), regulation of such things as financial markets (which most Tea-Partiers just don't seem to be able to get, so they are just viscerally against it when you-know-who is for it) and the environment (which right-wingers are against until something happens to THEM, like a railroad tank-car spill or a ground pollution event or a BP blow-out disaster that could have been prevented if there had been regulation); of course health insurance reform (which they have been convinced by the Sean Hannitys and Mark Levins of their world means a "government takeover of health care" when the whole operating system remains in private hands just as it is now, except for those chunks which are now in public hands, like the VA health system from which one can be sure a goodly number of Tea Partiers get their health care), and just about anything that might help the "undeserving poor" (especially if they are not white), however that term might be defined. It is absolutely fascinating that the new GOP/Tea Party Senator from Utah, Mike Lee, has actually called for the repeal of national child labor legislation. One wonders just how that would help solve the unemployment problem for so many of the nation's adults, but that's another matter.
So, "government," yuck. Let's just get rid of it and go back to "abiding by the Constitution." Of course these folks seem to forget that the Constitution is a document that sets up a national government and gives it a whole bunch of functions to achieve the purposes set out in the Preamble ( http://blog.buzzflash.com/jonas/185 ) with a whole bunch of powers spelled out in Articles I and II. But hey, why should they confuse themselves with facts. But then, is the debate really about "big government vs. small government?" Isn't it more about what the proper functions of government are without referring to its size? After all, protestations and the wishful thinking of a few lefties to the contrary notwithstanding, polls show that the majority of Tea Partiers are GOPers. Ron and Rand are GOPers, and the former has voted with his party in Congress on most issues other than the last President's foreign war-making. The GOPers in the Congress and those voters who identify themselves with that party, not with the Tea Party, are certainly GOPers. And they all say that their common interest, at least with this President in office, is "small government." A nice, sort of libertarian thought, no? Well, no.
These folks are not for "small government" across the board. They are only for "small government" when it comes to certain kinds of issues, like the ones reviewed briefly above. But boy, these folks are for Big Government, VERY Big Government, in a bunch of other arenas, all of which just happen to deal with personal belief and personal behavior. Let's see now, what might they be? Well abortion rights, for one. They want to criminalize choice in that matter. But actually that issue goes way beyond abortion, per se. Rather it goes to the matter of one's religious belief as to when life begins. Forget about abortion, per se. They want to criminalize any belief other than that which holds that life begins at the moment of conception ( http://blog.buzzflash.com/jonas/182 ). That sounds like pretty big government to me.
Then there's the matter of gay marriage. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution that they profess to hold so dear (except of course for the part of the 14th that provides citizenship to anyone born in the United States) guarantees equal protection of the law "to any person within [the] jurisdiction" of each State. It happens that each state has a set of civil laws that applies to the institution of marriage. Yet these "small government" folks want to deny access to that civil law to same-sex couples wishing to marry. They would thus deny them that guaranteed "equal protection of the laws," just because the GOP/Tea Party/Christian Rightists' religious beliefs say "no" to gay marriage. Pretty big government there, wouldn't you say? Again, they would place one set of religious beliefs above all others. Oh yes, let us note here, that one of the three (so far) members of the Senate "Tea Party" caucus, Jim DeMint, in both of his Senate campaigns called for banning gay teachers from the classroom. DADT for teachers, Jim?
Then there is the right to die, a pretty personal matter wouldn't you say? Attorney General Ashcroft, you know, the one who put a drape over the bare breasts of the statue of Lady Justice in the lobby of the Department of Justice, went out of his way to try to interfere with the democratically adopted law concerning that matter in Oregon. And then there was the likely 2012 GOP Presidential nominee, JEB Bush, and the Schiavo case. These "small government" folks would deny terminally ill people the right, under very carefully controlled conditions, to obtain medical assistance to end their lives at a time of their own choosing or that of their closest family member.
Then there is the use of recreational mood-altering drugs (RMADs) and drug-carriers. Certain ones, like the two major killers, tobacco products and ethyl alcohol, are "OK." They are subject to taxation and certain civil limitations on place and time of use, and of course criminal prosecution for otherwise criminal acts committed under the influence of alcohol. Other RMADs, like marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, are subject to blanket prohibition of both sale and use, totally limiting personal choice of exactly which RMAD's to use or not, at the risk of criminal prosecution. Sounds like pretty big government once again, no?
These folks are thus very much for big government in a whole bunch of arenas. But they all have to do with personal beliefs, especially religious ones, and behaviors even when they directly harm no one else. They are for "small government" when it comes to dealing with economic issues and VERY BIG NATIONAL PROBLEMS like the crumbling infrastructure, the failing educational system, and the future supply of energy. The favorite right-winger of certain lefties (because he happened to be against the Iraq War), Ron Paul, gets caught up in this contradiction right from the git-go. It happens that this physician is as against abortion rights as anyone else on his side of the aisle in Congress. And his son Rand is a leader of the Association of Physicians and Surgeons, a tiny (3000 members out of 800,000 US physicians) but well-funded and very vocal group, which has opposed just about every liberal-progressive advances in medicine and health care since they originally organized to oppose Medicare right along with Ronald Reagan. And oh yes, they too would criminalize abortion.
This all is, of course, dictated by the Corporate Power that the GOP/Tea Party represents, without happening to let the nation as a whole in on that fact. Our side would be well-advised to indeed begin to do just that.
Author's Note: This Commentary is number 164 in my BuzzFlash series. Originally published BuzzFlash/Truthout on Sun, 01/23/2011 - 1:31pm.
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor of 30 books. In addition to being a columnist for Truthout/BuzzFlash (http://www.truth-out.org/, http://www.buzzflash.com), Dr. Jonas is also Managing Editor and a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine; a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad; a Senior Columnist for The Greanville Post (http://www.greanvillepost.com/; a Contributor to The Planetary Movement; a Contributor to Op-Ed News.com (http://www.opednews.com/), a Contributor to TheHarderStuff newsletter.