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Why the Right is Pulling Our Legs When They Say Big Government is Bad For America, and Bad for Them

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Your typical conservative Republican, at least the male of the species, likes to imagine himself as something of a 21st century cowboy, a rugged libertarian individualist, striding like an entrepreneurial John Wayne across the free and open landscape that is the wild west. It is the conservative myth of today’s capitalist economy, an economy founded on a long history of the private enterprise that built this great country from scratch. More often than not, it was despite the interference of an incompetent, inefficient and lazy government that could never do anything right (pay no attention to the fact that the same folks call the generally well run socialistic 9/11/fire and police department system when they need help right now). It is appropriate to bear in mind that the current GOP Presidential ticket that spent much of the latest convention going through the usual Republican routine of condemning large, activist government consists of two westerners.

The free marketeers are as hypocritical as they are historically ignorant ideologues. Instead of whining and complaining about the government, they should get down on their knees and thank the Feds for putting the USA together piece by piece from sea to shining sea over the last two centuries plus. If not for massive effort by big government, America would be a far smaller land rather than the global powerhouse it is today.  

It all started back in the mid 1700s when a young George Washington – without any authorization -- managed to spark what we label the French and Indian War featured in the Daniel Day-Lewis flick The Last of the Mohicans, a global conflict that killed off a million people. During what is more broadly called the Seven Years War the British Crown promised their Indian allies that their lands west of the Appalachians would be protected from incursions by the east coast colonists. The enforcement of the ban infuriated the said colonists -- including Washington who had property in the hinterlands – inspiring them to issue the Declaration of Independence that among other items condemned the King for the depredations of the "savages." The Rebels formed a government that freed up the lands east of the Mississippi by gathering and distributing the funds needed to defeat Britain, tremendously expanding the size of the new nation beyond the original colonies. Then, in 1803, a Napoleon who among other things needed hard cash offered the Louisiana Territory to Thomas Jefferson’s government for a cool $23 million. A fantastic bargain even then, this was still far beyond the means of private investors so the government ponied up the funds, doubling the size of the country. Almost all this land was, therefore, directly federally owned, to heck with what the true owners thought about it. The members of the Lewis and Clark Expedition who explored the newly acquired real estate were not private entrepreneurs seeking riches, they were government employees sent to do a recon job. Later the same government dispatched the forces that booted the Spaniards out of Florida. The Federales also paid for the army that forced Mexico to sell a third of its territory for $15 million (serious consideration was given to absorbing the entire country -- which would have eliminated most of today’s immigration issues). The same taxpayer funded army then suppressed the natives that continued to object to the conquest of their realms. Traveling from coast to coast was an arduous, months long journey by walking, in a wagon, or around the Horn by slow ship. There was no way that capital could produce the monies to solve the problem by laying down a transcontinental railroad, so the government subsidized the project; the rail interests kept going back to Congress for more funds to complete the rail link. To speed up settlement of the territories the Federal Government gave away its land to settlers via the Homestead Act. Meanwhile the Russians offered another deal too sweet to pass up- Alaska for just over 7 million. Again the taxpayers paid the bill. Same for the AlCan highway that connects it to the lower 48. Who came up with the funds for the interstate highway complex that connects the western states to one another and the rest of the country? It was the Republican Eisenhower administration that began that megaproject. The airports and passenger rail are also subsidized. Who paid for those dams and other works that water the arid west? Mainly, it was the Feds, largely through the Army Corps of Engineers.

The Amerolibertarians living in Montana, Arizona, Kansas, California et al. do not get it. They do not understand, or choose not to understand, that if not for the Federal government they love to hate they would not be able to live in Montana, Arizona, Kansas and California in the first place. If not for massive government action and intervention the USA would be a modest nation consisting of the original 13 states. This is literally true. Imagine if the Continental government had not opened the space west of Appalachia by defeating the British. What if the libertarian Jefferson had turned down the Louisiana Territory in accord with his opinion that the purchase violated the Constitution? Or, what if the US Army had not entered Mexico City to compel our southern neighbor to sell California, Arizona and New Mexico? What if US military forces had not backed the anti-native coup that brought Hawaii into the fold? For over two centuries the central government has been instrumental in laying the foundations of the American colossus that has provided the environment that free enterprise needed in its parallel effort to make this country into a nation of exceptional wealth.

But now that the nation is complete and economic conservatism returned to its rightful place as the dominant American paradigm, surely the advocates of private enterprise will put a stop to the Federal pork, at least that directed to the red states whose right wing politicians and populations are far too principled to accept monies extracted from the pockets of the harried American taxpayer? That’s a good one. The Republican Reign of the Bush II years has left no doubt they were just kidding when they promised the American people to cut spending and reduce the size of the federal government in Washington, DC.  As principled practitioners of the godly procapitalist Prosperity Christianity, conservatives could be counted upon to finally put an end to the big government pork earmarks and programs handed out by the corrupt, secular, liberal Democrats. We now know that the problem the right had with pork was not that it existed per se, but that the Democrats controlled most of it. Once the right achieved the glorious power they so long craved they immediately set about bellying up to the Federal trough to slop up as much taxpayer swill as they could ladle up and carry back home. The number of K street lobbyists ballooned under the aegis of the Bush II-Cheney administration and the Tom Delay Congress.

If you want to learn more of this conservative project to deconstruct the government while stripping it of as much lucre as possible, it is detailed by Thomas Frank in What’s the Matter With Kansas and The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule.  

Let’s take a look at Alaska. It is a classic Republican Red western state where the bulk of the populace loves to denounce big government while it sends to Washington representatives and senators -- epitomized by the odious Ted Stevens -- to then send as much money as possible back to the one state that remains a true frontier. This effort is so cynically intense that those who dare challenge the scam are viciously attacked, as Stevens did on the Senate floor when his "bridge to nowhere" was exposed.

Now we have Sarah Palin. After a few years of fiscal poverty for her town of a few thousand, Wasilla, the "outside the Beltway reformer" mayor hired a high powered DC lobby firm that helped funnel into Alaska a remarkable $27 million in federal earmarks, including 15 million for a rail project. One can be excused for wondering if the libertarian residents happily trashed the distant city inside the beltway as they cashed its checks. After Palin became governor she was all for the notorious bridge until Congress told her no -- her repeated claim that she just said no to Congress is a lie -- and she kept the couple hundred million. As the Repub veep pick Palin is lauded by the party as opposing earmarks on conservative principle. When opponents then criticized her for her hand-in-the-federal-till ways her defenders contend she is just looking out for her constituency. Exactly.

To expose just how two faced Alaska conservatives and the highly-popular-up-there-Palin are, consider this. Palin battled the oil interests to boost the annual oil revenues check that is sent out to each citizen of the state to $1200. You cannot get a better example of big government writ large. Few would not agree that applying the screws to the oil industry was a good idea, but Palin’s move has been criticized because it means spending less state funds on assorted projects. How is this to be made up for? Simple. The governor sent a 70 page memo outlining some $200 million of 2009 funding requests to Stevens in Washington. In other words, small government advocates elevated state support for the state population while extracting yet more dollars from American taxpayers.

There is nothing new about this scheme; Alaska has always received far more monies from the federal coffers than it has sent back. There is, as it happens, an interesting argument for why this is appropriate. The idea is that because so much land is owned by the Feds – they paid for it back in 1867 – the people up there should be correspondingly compensated. I do not know whether this makes sense or not, but the issue I am addressing is how many Americans disingenuously bite the federal hand that is feeding them?

Alaska is just the tip of the iceberg of cynical right wing opportunism; it is a nationwide problem. One of Ameroconservatism’s dirty big secrets is that the anti-government red states as a whole receive more funds from the central government than their predominantly Republican taxpayers pay into the system, leaving the blue states at the short end of the fiscal stick. The right wingers are snickering into their sleeves.

Or they were. The right went so overboard with graft and corruption that they actually managed to shock even their hypocritical selves. Even worse for their cause, they have turned the American majority against them. The situation is so bad that at the St. Paul convention the candidates had to expend a good part of their rhetoric denouncing their own party while claiming that the same party was best suited to clean up the situation it had made. The problem for the right is that this cycle of unintentional self mutilation was and always will be inevitable. You see, conservatives have a big problem they will never be able to overcome. They are human beings. Really, they are. Republican leaders, lead by McCain and Palin, are promising that if American will just give good old American conservatism yet another chance they will -- chastened by their failings during the Bush II years -- get it right next time around.

McCain may desire some level of reform, but he will not be able to overcome the larger trend. If conservatives return to power the majority will not be able to help themselves from returning to the government money trough. It’s just too tempting. Most in positions of power cannot resist accumulating additional power and wealth by gaming the system to their short term advantage. Conservative voters are the enablers, the bulk of them want their leaders and representatives to play the double game like the Alaska supporters of the still popular Ted Stevens and the inhabitants of Wasilla.

Nor is the long term Republican project to wreck government workable. The main reason is that the dysfunctional results of conservative rule make a lot of voters mad. Remember what happened to the Republican reputation after Katrina, and where it is now with the economy damaged by the latest de-regulation fueled economic bubble?

Truth be told, most Americans actually like big government -- that’s why social security, which conservatives still and always will dream of eliminating, is the third rail of national politics. Karl Rove’s scheme to play the political margins to build a permanent Republican majority was as naïve as it was doomed because it contained so many fatal contradictions. It was bound to blow up in the party’s face.

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Gregory Paul is an independent researcher interested in informing the public about little known yet important aspects of the complex interactions between religion, secularism, culture, economics, politics and societal conditions. His scholarly work (more...)
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