"It is not the state that orders us. It is we who order the state."
With regard to the anti-tax & spending protests of last weekend in Washington D.C., that quote could just as easily be assumed to be the mantra of those who participated in the protests. However, those are not the words of some famous American patriot who uttered them in defiance of presumed government tyranny, and whom we are so proud of that we immortalized them in the pages of elementary school textbooks. They were not words of the leader of some populist movement leader who turned a cleaver phrase to gain popular support for progressive policy. They are not even the words of an American. They are the words of the former chancellor of Nazi German, Adolf Hitler. But such was the message ostensibly carried to Washington last weekend by the protesters.
Now before I’m inundated with protests myself about how I’m making negative aspersions, I am NOT attempting to compare the mostly conservative activists among the protesters to Nazis. However, what I am doing is illustrating how the tactics of traditionally progressive activists can be hijacked by an ideologically-bound or self-interested few to give the impression of general consensus. That is what the protests in Washington were all about. So this then is a challenge to the protesters’ intent.
Why? Because first and foremost their selective memory when it comes to their complaint that “government spending is out of control.” Take the non-Social Security of the government spending for the last 55 years. The greatest amount of deficit spending (borrowing) occurred under the watches of Republican presidents, with Ronald Reagan and Bush II’s administrations being responsible for the lion’s share of deficit spending during this period. In fact, it was the spending and ill-advised tax cuts of the second Bush which helped to eradicate the budget surplus and pay-down on the national deficit which started under former President Bill Clinton (naturally, die-hard ideologues from the conservative right have disputed this fact by engaging in esoteric hair-splitting of economic theories which challenge the bottom line--that it was under recent conservative stewardship of the government that the deficit spending began to balloon out of control). Furthermore, Bush II had the advantage of a Republican-controlled Congress for much of his presidency. "The Reagan Budget: The Deficit that Didn't Have to Be." http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=879 The Cato Institute; "Bush to Fund a Third of Non-Social Security Spending This Year with Borrowed Money" http://www.ctj.org/html/debt0603.htm Citizens for Tax Justice. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_debt_by_U.S._presidential_terms
This is not leftist propaganda meant to make conservatives look bad; these are historical and economic facts supported by the numbers. And the selective memories of the protesters and their activist organizers ignores the major difference between the motives for spending by the aforementioned presidents and President Obama; neither Republican president didn't have to contend with crafting policies meant to curtail the effects of an unprecedented economic downward spiral, the likes of which haven't been seen since the Great Depression (although to his credit, Reagan did start out with the intent to challenge the growing budget deficit). True, spending is out of control, but so is the economy...desperate times, desperate measures.
So, after years of deficit spending, no fiscal restraint by either political party, and the continued practice of Congressional earmarks—a practice vociferously supported by both moderate and conservative Republicans –why all of a sudden have conservatives found the testicular fortitude to suddenly don the mask of consensus, take to the streets, and protest government spending?
The reasons are simple. It’s a rejection of the legitimacy of the duly-elected Obama Administration which cloaking itself in the free exercise of civil liberties and ideological differences. Its also fear of change (no pun intended), with hints of xenophobia, nativism, ethnocentrism, and willful ignorance, with the latter propensity resulting in the labeling anyone who desires to help the poor and/or disenfranchised as tantamount to “Socialism.” It is a rejection of policy and government based on lies, innuendo, scare tactics, slander, and misinformation by those who unflinchingly hold on to ideological political beliefs in the hopes of shaping the country according to their particular view of how things should be. It is an embracing of the absurd belief that a particular individual or group wants to reshape the American way of life which we have become accustomed to in ways which are alien and antithetical to our core values; heaven forbid that someone simply sees an inequality and wants to address it through the established legislative process. It is a movement which even challenges the legitimacy of birthright, and revealing how easy it is for a relative few to stir up unfounded fears among those who did not have the legal process go the way that they would have liked.
I’m a firm believer in the right protest unpopular policy. I also believe in unfettered free speech—even unpopular speech—mostly because free speech is how great ideas are exchanged and eventually become policy. I am for progressive policy based on need, not ideological adherence. And with 30-40 million Americans without health insurance (many unknown more chronically underinsured), and an economic crisis which has the country a few steps away from a wholesale economic collapse, this is not the time to cling to the safety of economic timidity. We are not going to eradicate these and other problems without spending money. At the same time, we must learn to practice fiscal restraint, an idea the protesters of last week promote, and one in which I share. However, in order to find a policy which works to the best of both our country’s creed of opportunity and of preserving the system we live by, the selfish intent of people like the protesters must be revealed insofar as their desire to portray themselves as representing the best interest if the entire nation as a whole.