Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Opinion

A love letter to Big Government

RECOMMENDED READING


Seventy-two percent of Americans say big government is a greater threat to the U.S. in the future than is big business or big labor, a record high in the nearly 50-year history of this question. — Gallup Organization, Dec. 13, 2013

You are hulking and awkward, humorless and impatient. You are pathologically regimented and nerdy almost beyond belief. You are penny-wise and pound-freaking-ridiculous. Every now and then your behavior is simply reprehensible. So maybe this is perverse, because also — ewww — you're my uncle. But I am so in love with you.

Let me count the ways:

You protect me from terrorists and pathogens and pollution and foreign armies and racketeers. You enforce a semblance of order in the neighborhood and in the marketplace. You finance stuff that I use all the time, more or less for free: bridges, dams, GPS, federal reserve banks, and crash-test dummies (indirectly).

You deliver my mail, plus the odd cruise missile. Not to mention my land-grant-college education and my graphite and titanium golf clubs — dual-use materials researched and developed by you. Stealth fighter shmealth shmighter, we're talking 30 extra yards off the tee, baby.

Also you invented the Internet, which is soooo great for global communications and last-minute shopping. Meanwhile, you've been ticking off items on the ol' honey-do list. "End slavery," check. "Eradicate polio," check. "Clean Lake Erie," check.

Twice in the past 85 years, from the New Deal to TARP, you saved the world from financial Armageddon. In the 20th century you defeated both fascism and communism — because of, not in spite of, your gigantism. So when the haters mock your size and the size of your heart, it breaks mine. When Newt Gingrich flamed you in his book ("The secular socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did.") it was like seeing you rank last in "Hot or Not."

Truthfully, this was love at first sight. You didn't even have to offer Big Bird or Obamacare. You had me at the Louisiana Purchase — a huge federal expenditure guaranteeing westward expansion. Fifteen states emerged, in whole or in part, from that budget-busting, tax-and-spend initiative.

The Postal Act of 1792 did in the 18th century what the Internet has done in modern times: connected a far-flung world and marketplace. The transcontinental railroad joined the coasts via federal land with federal loans. The Homestead Acts lured settlers to the Wild West, a century-long land redistribution program — conceived by Republicans.

Pretty ironic, eh? Oh, Big Government, not only does conservative dogma ignore the GOP's proud history, it ignores some bedrock conservative values — such as law and order. The same folks who demand you frisk loiterers want you to leave oil companies and banks unmolested by tyrannical job-killing measures like laws.

I feel for you, ya big lug. You're so ungainly next to the sleek and comely free market, but let's not forget that the captains of industry, with alarming frequency, go all Bligh on us: BP (manslaughter), GlaxoSmithKline (illegally marketing unapproved drugs), JPMorgan Chase (subprime recklessness), Philip-Morris (lying merchants of cancer), Archer Daniels Midland (price fixing), HSBC (abetting drug-cartels' money laundering), Enron (megafraud). Yes, as I constantly say, among the things the free market is free of is conscience.

Now don't go getting a big head, my dearest Uncle Sam, because in addition to a century of human bondage you have plenty to answer for. Who can forget the CIA overthrows? The World War II internment of Japanese Americans. The Trail of Tears. The Vietnam War. The Red Scare. Tuskegee.

You have no monopoly on institutional transgression. You do, however, have a monopoly on protecting the public from monopolies. And hostile ICBMs. And salmonella. With all due respect to the rights of individual states, some functions require scale.

New Mexico Division of Antitrust? Arkansas Institutes of Health? Vermont Aviation Administration? Alaska Department of Defense? As somebody once said, thanks but no thanks.

But now there's a Blue Scare, and they're hating on you. They loathe your debt and your giveaways to freeloaders like the elderly, the poor, the unemployed, the war-disabled, and the just plain unlucky. They want the unregulated economy's lucre to simply trickle down, like fracking-lubricated ground water, to the disadvantaged. As Florida Sen. Marco Rubio says, "Free enterprise makes people prosperous, all people prosperous, and big government makes people poorer."

But, gosh, Big Government, one of the things I so love about you is your generosity — not to welfare queens but to free enterprise itself. On top of the bridges and that other infrastructure you built, the stable society you have sustained through your largesse offers business a dependable, educated workforce and vast affluent consumer base more or less entirely unwiped-out by famine, epidemic, civil strife or grinding poverty. In other words, the supposed welfare state your enemies so despise is the ultimate trickle-down corporate welfare.

As for spending, it's so infuriating when folks like House Budget Committee member Bill Flores start running you down. ("Every American family and 49 out of 50 states currently abide by some form of a balanced-budget requirement. If they can make the hard choices to pay their bills and live within their means, then Washington should too.") But, dearest one, two-thirds of American families do live with huge debt burdens called "mortgages." Flores has two of them, totaling about $1.5 million.

At business school nobody calls debt a noose. They call it a lever. That's why corporations indebt themselves to the tune of trillions. Gee, Unc, you don't hear Grover Norquist badmouthing bonds. Yet he blackmails legislators into signing an anti-tax pledge. Why? Compared to the rest of the industrialized world, you tax us so little.

In a month or two, I'm going to file my tax return, SWAK. Think of my check this way: sweets for my sweet. Big Government, be mine.

Bon Garfield is co-host of the public radio program On the Media. He wrote this column for Slate.com,

Comments

Another voice: Time for Republicans to denounce this tax nonsense

Mick Mulvaney, the phony deficit hawk President Donald Trump tapped to oversee the nation’s budget, all but admitted on Sunday that the GOP tax plan currently before the Senate is built on fiction. Senators from whom the public should expect more — s...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Editorial: Florida should restore online access to nursing home inspections

Editorial: Florida should restore online access to nursing home inspections

In a state with the nation’s highest portion of residents over 65 years old and more than 80,000 nursing home beds, public records about those facilities should be as accessible as possible. Yet once again, Florida is turning back the clock to the da...
Published: 11/20/17

Another voice: A time of reckoning on sexual misconduct

Stories about powerful men engaging in sexual misconduct are becoming so common that, as with mass shootings, the country is in danger of growing inured to them. But unlike the tragic news about that latest deranged, murderous gunman, the massive out...
Published: 11/20/17

Editorial: Good for Tampa council member Frank Reddick to appeal for community help to solve Seminole Heights killings

As the sole black member of the Tampa City Council, Frank Reddick was moved Thursday to make a special appeal for help in solving four recent murders in the racially mixed neighborhood of Southeast Seminole Heights. "I’m pleading to my brothers. You ...
Published: 11/17/17
Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

Editorial: It’s time to renew community’s commitment to Tampa Theatre

New attention to downtown Tampa as a place to live, work and play is transforming the area at a dizzying pace. Credit goes to recent projects, both public and private, such as the Tampa River Walk, new residential towers, a University of South Florid...
Published: 11/17/17
Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

Editorial: Rays opening offer on stadium sounds too low

The Rays definitely like Ybor City, and Ybor City seems to like the Rays. So what could possibly come between this match made in baseball stadium heaven? Hundreds (and hundreds and hundreds) of millions of dollars. Rays owner Stu Sternberg told Times...
Published: 11/16/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Editorial: Wage hike for contractors’ labor misguided

Editorial: Wage hike for contractors’ labor misguided

St. Petersburg City Council members are poised to raise the minimum wage for contractors who do business with the city, a well-intended but misguided ordinance that should be reconsidered. The hourly minimum wage undoubtedly needs to rise — for every...
Published: 11/16/17

Editorial: Make workplaces welcoming, not just free of harassment

A federal trial began last week in the sex discrimination case that a former firefighter lodged against the city of Tampa. Tanja Vidovic describes a locker-room culture at Tampa Fire Rescue that created a two-tier system — one for men, another for wo...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/17/17
Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Kriseman’s new term

Editorial: Firing a critic of his handling of the sewer crisis is a bad early step in Kriseman’s new term

Barely a week after St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman promised to unite the city following a bitter and divisive campaign, his administration has fired an employee who dared to criticize him. It seems Kriseman’s own mantra of "moving St. Pete forwar...
Published: 11/15/17
Updated: 11/16/17
Editorial: USF’s billion-dollar moment

Editorial: USF’s billion-dollar moment

The University of South Florida recently surpassed its $1 billion fundraising goal, continuing a current trend of exceeding expectations. At 61 years old — barely middle age among higher education institutions — USF has grown up quickly. It now boast...
Published: 11/14/17
Updated: 11/17/17