Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Small Government? Or Bigger Business?

Item number-one on the conservative agenda is to make small government a campaign issue. Republican candidates dutifully include it in their recitations of party talking points, and deluded tea-baggers shout themselves hoarse in their frothing, wild-eyed mania for it.

But who does small government really benefit?

Not surprisingly, small government’s most-ardent admirers are wealthy businessmen. The reasons are simple. Observing government guidelines and conforming to government regulations costs money. And the more a business spends on fulfilling government requirements, the less there is for the guy in the corner office.

There’s also the issue of ego. Business is forever a toddler attempting to convince mom and dad it doesn’t need a babysitter. That it’s old-enough to stay home alone. Government regulation is the wagging finger that says it isn’t.

The small government ideal proposed by conservatives removes the speed bumps from the marketplace, while it diminishes the quality of life for just about everyone else. It lets business do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, wherever it wants. And make no mistake—conservatives are all about the business. First, last and always. The rest is just marketing.

But there’s a problem. Most of us don’t give a damn how much CEOs make. We’re not terribly concerned about the welfare of the wealthy. How can their problem be made our problem? How can government regulation be marketed as an issue constraining our personal liberty, and not one set to clear the runway for business unbound?

Pull out the time-honored tricks. Exaggeration. Lies. Misinformation. Find the lowest common denominator of your constituent’s anger and exploit, exploit, exploit. Push that hot button until your fingers hurt. You remember last summer’s death panels, don’t you?

While challenged by leading anything more than a parade, conservatives are master manipulators and brilliant marketers. They are experts at misdirection: You’re not pissed-off at British Petroleum’s incompetence and lack of accountability! You’re pissed-off at the Obama administration’s response!

In tea-bag land, Wall Street, Massey Energy and BP aren’t proof of what happens when mom and dad decide to forego the babysitter for an evening. They’re proof of how government meddling muddies the waters of commerce.

Do you see the delusion here? The naked self-interest in corporate America’s backing of this idea? Tell me how this differs from ghetto thugs advising their neighbors-slash-victims “No snitching”.

You can’t because it doesn’t.

Business is a one-celled organism. It has one instinct, and one instinct only. And that is to make as much money as possible. Left unregulated, it is a virus which invariably destroys its host. Left unregulated, business runs amuck with the numbing regularity that children choose Happy Meals over six-course, sit-down dinners.

I have a request to make of the hypnotized. Those of you who stubbornly refuse to acknowledge this agenda. Those for whom Lord of the Flies represents a societal ideal:

Keep your six-thousand pound SUV off publicly-funded roads. Bank and invest where there is no FDIC and SEC. Treat your own sewage. Find your own water. Process your own garbage. Buy your kids’ toys from China. Kindly purchase your meat, produce and pharmaceuticals at flea markets. Or better yet, an open air stall in Tijuana. And care for your developmentally-disabled offspring by yourself.

Fish near BP oil rigs. Work in Massey Energy coal mines. Develop your retirement plan with Bernie Madoff. Fly on planes, drive on bridges and ride in elevators with only a businessman’s promises for protection.

Ride your snowmobile to the furthest reaches of Yellowstone National Park, and dial anyone except 911 when you crash through the ice some winter afternoon. And as the hypothermia sets in, remember you got to keep everything you made.

And should your home catch fire, or a family member be fatally assaulted, we the sighted promise to do our damndest to ensure that municipal, county, state and federal governments don’t intrude and compromise your principles. And may I assume you’ve already bid adieu to Medicare and Social Security?

Thank you.

For the rest of us, small government is wealthcare dressed as populist outrage.

To be sure, government has abused taxpayers. Too often acted in the interests of a monied minority at the expense of the greater good. But to fall for the sucker punch offered by conservatives who demand its dismantling is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

This is a problem with a solution. And that solution is better government, not less.

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