Getting Government Off Our Backs
Government is so entwined in our lives that many who rail against it don’t even realize that they’re using government programs, Steve Benen argues. He uses notes the case of a Tea Party leader who rails against socialized medicine even though she’s on Social Security and Medicare. Steve says that people like this shouldn’t be listened to since, while they may be sincere, they’re “a confused group of misled people.”
My dad was one of these people.
He joined the Army at 18 and stayed in for 20 to earn a retirement pension. Along the way, the Army helped pay for his GED and associate’s degree. After a brief stint in retail management, he used the GI Bill to finish college and went back to work for Uncle Sam as a Department of Defense civilian. He was ultimately medically retired and drew Social Security disability benefits his last few years.
He had a bumper sticker on his truck that said, “I love my country. It’s the GOVERNMENT I’m afraid of.”
Dad was a bright guy. He was fully aware that the Defense Department was part of the government. But, like most people who want a smaller government, he mostly thought of “government” as intrusive regulations, a complicated tax code, social welfare programs, foreign aid, and all of the “bad” things government does. He wasn’t opposed to a large military although, like me, he was skeptical of the nation-building efforts in which it has been primarily engaged over the last two decades. (Also, unlike me, he supported bringing back the draft.)
As to the charge of cognitive dissonance, it’s pretty easy to justify using the GI Bill or accepting Social Security and Medicare. After all, they’d been earned and paid for.
Ranting and raving wasn’t his style, so Dad was never going to attend a Tea Party protest or go shout down a Congressman at a town hall meeting. But he shared the frustrations and political attitudes of those who did. He’d seen the reach of the Federal government get much longer and more pervasive over the last half century and didn’t like it one bit. And, aside from the sense that people were having to work further and further into the year just to pay taxes and that basic freedoms were being taken away (he was particularly exorcised over the anti-smoking crackdown but also such things as seat belt and helmet laws) he was frustrated at what he saw as an orchestrated government campaign to change the culture: marginalizing religion in the public square, limiting gun rights, forcing women into the workforce, pushing multiculturalism, normalizing homosexuality, and so forth.
Steve’s right that it’s almost impossible to reason with movements like this. But it’s not because they’re comprised mostly of “confused and misled” people. Rather, it’s because they’re extraordinarily disparate, united only by a strongly held belief that their values and way of life are in danger. It’s beyond emotional, going to a visceral core. And it’s almost impossible to talk that away.