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An American Shadow: Citizen Projection and Government Dereliction

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Speaking to representatives of Future Farmers of America in July 1988, President Ronald Reagan took a moment to remind his listeners of the ten most dangerous words in the English language: “Hi, I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.”

Decades earlier, near the beginning of his political career, Reagan recorded a speech on a vinyl LP excoriating socialized medicine for what he claimed as the gradualist aim of controlling citizens’ lives. He went so far as to predict that the government would end up coercing doctors as to where they could or couldn’t practice medicine. Even though Reagan called it “one of the traditional methods of imposing statism,” he does not mention a single example of when a government eventually trampled upon the freedoms of its citizens.

Like other Cold War red-baiting alarmists, Reagan fueled the hysteria of the U.S. succumbing to Stalinist repression; also doing his share to popularize the projection of inhuman, monolithic qualities onto government, an impulse that’s wildly popular still today. Perhaps because of these uncertain times people are apt to carry heaps of anxiety and need somewhere or something to unload upon. Given the jobs crisis, crumbling infrastructure and America’s loss of prestige world-wide, these days our government is a fish-in-a-barrel shot.

Capitalizing on the anti-government appeal, a significant number of Republicans running for office will season their campaigns with small government or limited government slogans. Apart from promises about lower taxes, stripping the social safety net or uncaging the “free” market, there aren’t many specifics about how less government would improve the quality of life for the whole republic.

The problems our republic faces have little or nothing to do with big government or small government. What afflicts our nation’s politics is an influence gap that continually thwarts the will of voters. The gap owes much to the 40 percent of eligible voters who don’t vote in each election, as well as a general unwillingness of voters to build a consensus to solve our most pressing problems. Into said gap, moneyed interests (petroleum, financial services and the defense industry, to name a few) have driven their Hummer-sized policy agendas (war and industry deregulation); an effort that has looted not only the federal budget, but which has also skimmed off the value of middle class labor: all in service to the endless gain of share holders, industry captains and their direct reports.

And all the while their right wing water carriers work to spread antipathy and mistrust between voters and government. They have employed all manner of fear-mongering slogans about tyranny and threats to the so-called free market. Conjuring a despotic straw man, they urge that he stands at the threshold of seizing your rifles and relocating you to FEMA-operated death camps. Such apocalyptic talk has had the effect of eroding the bond of accountability between the government and citizens; what should have prevented much of the public and private sector malfeasance we’ve seen over the last 30 years.

What voters too often forget or fail to understand is the influence they wield when working in concert. If the 2008 economic meltdown has anything to teach us, it must be how interlinked or mutually dependent our occupational and financial destinies are. Why not accept and utilize that interdependence toward its greatest electoral advantage? As the group granting the “consent of the governed” we insult the purpose of our republic by continuing to roll over in deference to wealthy interests.

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About judefolly

  • falconflight

    Well, I must say you can artfully string every Left wing, old hat cliche’ of the past 50 years. The compact between the People and their government is the Constitution. I know it’s just a old piece of paper signed by a bunch of white crackers.

  • FalconFlight

    Oh, BTW, what’s Judefolly? Dog’s name or a off Broadway show you saw or what? Just a question.

  • Anarcissie

    People who support imperialism, war, assassination of political opponents, the national security state, the prison-industrial complex, the Drug War, the invasion of government by religion and vice versa, government persecution of homosexuals, massive bailouts for failed bankers and brokers, corporate welfare and subsidies, and so on — this list could go on for a long time — do not believe in ‘small government’. Any coherent, rational discussion of American politics cannot take this bit of flimflam seriously except as an example of the abuse of the simple-minded.

  • Baronius

    There’s a lot of confusion in this article. For one thing, you say that people are naturally reacting against government, but also that the problem is not enough people are voting. What makes you think that the non-voters are on your side? If anti-government animosity is natural, why do you assume that there’s a mass of anti-business sentiment out there untapped?

    You also say that Republicans aren’t offering any specifics about the benefits of smaller government. Additionally, you say that the right is talking about black helicopters and FEMA camps. You clearly haven’t been listening to the mainstream right. I notice that your information about Republicans contains links to ThinkProgress and Huffington Post. The right is more interesting than you think. Even just reading the articles and comments at BC would expose you to some new ideas.

  • http://judefolly.com jude folly

    appreciate the opportunity to clarify. ronald reagan and his adherents have been more than willing to exploit discontent to undermine the gov’t as broker and subject of accountability. consider how is it that a small group like project for a new american century could hoist the invasion of iraq upon the backs of the middle and working classes. a fully engaged electorate would have made it far more difficult. i refer to a class of (eligible) voters who do not pay attention–this demographic at whom the multi-million dollar TV campaign ads are aimed. who pays for these ads? moneyed interests who enjoy having their place at the table. and the 98% remainder of voters are left scratching their head, ‘hey i thought i voted for change,’ and they most certainly expected change. but they did not pay attention to their candidate accepting boatloads of bundled contributions from the top 2%.

    was not my intention to convey a mass of anti-business sentiment out there waiting to be utilized. by the by i found out about the fema camps from paranoid lefties.

    bottom line: i tried articulating why our republic largely isn’t working for the bottom 98%. it’s an influence gap that voter apathy and the distorting influence of money prominently figure in.

  • troll

    when we get the non-voting eligible voter population up to 70% we might have an impact

  • http://poetspirit.org/ David Weller

    It’s interesting how right wing people using this comments section defy humanity. War is more important to them than commenting about the article…. Live it up, not bringing it down.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    It’s amusing that some of the loudest voices calling for smaller government are campaigning to become part of it.

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Reference?

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    References? Surely you jest.

    Bachmann, Perry, Paul…

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Pardon me. I though you were referring to commenters on this thread.

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