Government is not a solution to our problem; government is the problem.The mindset articulated in Reagan's famous quote is what must be changed politically in America. This statement is perhaps the most subversive, insidious, unpatriotic, and, indeed, treasonous idea ever to be unleashed upon the citizens of the United States. Far too many of us have bought into it for far too long. This is the foundational lie that must be changed.
--Ronald Reagan, First Inaugural Address
Join me below the double gnocchi to talk about what must be changed and why. I apologize for the length of the diary. You can skip it and go to the good stuff if you want to. But first, a word from our sponsor.
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If the 20th Century taught us anything, it is that American government, when properly applied, is good. So Reagan's claim suffers immediately because it is a lie. It is, perhaps, the biggest lie since the one that says white-men-of-Western-European-culture-are-superior-to-everyone-else-by-birth-and-by-the-grace-of-God-and-are-therefore-entitled-to-whatever-they-want. The two lies are related in a perverse symbiotic way. They enable each other. But Reagan's lie is not just a big lie; it is an all-pervasive lie.
Reagan's statement is a direct slap in the face to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence and is obviously unpatriotic. The Preamble to the Constitution says:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.This statement says that we rely upon government to help us do collectively what we cannot do individually. Therefore, to say that "government is the problem" is to say the Framers failed in their effort, that the tool of the Constitution is ineffective. Reagan is saying that "We the People" are incompetent. That we cannot govern ourselves. That liberal democracy (small-l, small-d) doesn't work. In other words, it goes against everything the Framers believed. And every Republican since has repeated Reagan's lie with gusto. They can wear all the flag lapel pins they want, but if they believe Reagan, they're unpatriotic.
This lie is insidious because it takes away the only real tool the people have to keep the oligarchs in check. If government can't stop them from robbing us, then what can? Without laws and enforcement (government), we can't protect ourselves from the Lords of the Manor. Because America bought this lie, the 1% has been stealing from us as fast as they can for the last 30+ years.
How did this happen? My theory is that many white people in America turned against government because of civil rights. It was one thing to support civil rights when it was fat rednecks loosing fire hoses and dogs on peaceful, dignified demonstrators on TV. It was another thing to actually have people of color from the ghetto in your child's classroom. As government began to push for civil rights through court orders, many working class whites became resentful as the realities of integration set in. And it wasn't just the South. Some of the worst riots over busing were in true blue Massachusetts. And the Republican party didn't mind exploiting that resentment in order to gain/maintain power (cf. Nixon's "law and order," Reagan's "welfare queen," and Bush the Elder's Willie Horton, et al., ad nauseum).
Added to the economic woes created by Nixon and continuing through Ford and Carter, people began to despise government and forget the 40 years of shared prosperity that government properly applied had given them, the period Krugman calls the "Great Compression."
I teach Steinbeck's classic The Grapes of Wrath, and if that book has one clear message, it is that the people need government to protect themselves from the "Great Owners." The people heeded that call in 1940 and the middle class exploded. Wealth inequality decreased. The boats of the 99% rose with the flood of prosperity.
But that ceased in 1980. Look at this chart showing productivity and wages:
Again, what happened? We took away progressive taxation under the very flawed notion that "Greed is good," we deregulated the media and many industries under the pernicious guise that "government functions poorly," and we began to systematically dismantle labor unions under the false claim that "unions coddle the lazy and incompetent."
Why? Because "gov'mint" was bad according to Saint Ronnie. A popular joke told at the time went like this:
Q. Know what the three biggest lies in the world are?This meme produced an "every man for himself" mentality that destroyed whatever remaining "we're all in this together" sentiment still lingered from the unifying experience--and propaganda--of World War II. People forgot what TVA and Social Security and the G.I Bill and interstate highways had done for them. They forgot that everyone sacrificed to win the war. They forgot that, despite our differences, we are all Americans and we have an obligation to "promote the general welfare."
A. "The check is in the mail," "I'll still love you in the morning," and "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you."
In 1979, Jimmy Carter saw the lie ("a mistaken idea of freedom") coming and talked about it in his famous "Malaise" Speech (actually entitled "Crisis of Confidence"). He said:
We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I've warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.With the hindsight of 2013, it is clear we took the wrong path. We need to change direction. We need to replace the lie told by Reagan with the truth spoken by FDR:
All the traditions of our past, all the lessons of our heritage, all the promises of our future point to another path, the path of common purpose and the restoration of American values. That path leads to true freedom for our Nation and ourselves. We can take the first steps down that path as we begin to solve our energy problem.
The only sure bulwark of continuing liberty is a government strong enough to protect the interests of the people, and a people strong enough and well enough informed to maintain its sovereign control over the government.That is a huge task that FDR has laid before us. The Republican argument is always that "government is out of control" and in some cases it is (see NSA), but to abandon the tool of government because it has been wielded imperfectly at times is to throw the baby out with the bath water. It seems to be the people actually raised by nannies and who employ them who are quickest too decry the "Nanny State."
--Franklin D. Roosevelt, Fireside Chat 12: On the Recession (April 14, 1938)
We the People need to maintain "sovereign control," not the privileged few. The question is whether we are "strong enough and well enough informed." That is why I think the three most important reforms we should push for are first, to make America more democratic (small-d) by eliminating the filibuster and the Electoral College; second, by decentralizing media and reestablishing fairness; and finally by controlling election spending and procedures. In this manner we can gain the strength and knowledge needed to maintain control.
But, reform aside, we need to push back hard against the slander that Republicans have perpetrated against our Constitution. It will take time to change that meme and it will take action. Thankfully, people are beginning to fight back. Daily Kos is an important part of that and events like NN13 are key to making things change. So, many thanks to kos for providing this site and for inventing Netroots Nation.
We all see the injustice. We all see the lie. We have to start praising government where government is due. We all know government is imperfect, but we have to remind our neighbors that there is a reason why the Founders handed us the tool of government. Capitalism is also imperfect, often much more than government. Many more businesses fail than government programs. So we need to refute the lie, and once we do, we need to wield the tool of government wisely, judiciously, and practically.
Reagan courtesy theweek.com
Constitution courtesy opednews.com
Integration courtesy www.upa.pdx.edu
Productivity graph courtesy Daily Kos
FDR courtesy Howard Payne University
We're the government courtesy waliberals.org