Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Paradox of Anti-Government Conservatives and Running for Public Office

What I find interesting is the contradiction inherent to the campaign platform of many anti-government conservative candidates. These folks often base their candidacies on an appeal to getting government out of the people's lives. Yet, what they are actually trying to do is precisely to become part of the government that they wish to emasculate. It makes absolutely no sense to have a serious interest in occupying a public office as a full-time job as a legislator if you are not interested in passing legislation and working to dictate the parameters of how citizens are to function in our society. Wanting to govern requires actually participating in the process of governing, and not destroying the very thing you claim to want to be elected to do.

Now perhaps many "small government" conservatives would say that they are not opposed to government per se, but rather want a limited government and a more efficient government. But that is not what is shaping the campaigns of many on the populist rightwing these days. The mantra among most conservative campaigns these days is not the value of a smaller, more-efficient government, but the very vilification of the idea of government itself. It is the "Party of No" attitude that embraces not actually saying "Yes" to government, but obstructing and sabotaging government.

Case in point is that the GOP's "solution" to problems is not to propose any constructive policy, but rather to keep the government from being able to do anything at all.

And all this leads me to think that conservatives who are serious about this belief that government is the problem and not the solution, and yet still want to be part of the government, are spinning us a yarn. Because who would ever want to be part of the problem and not the solution?


eric said...

"These folks often base their candidacies on an appeal to getting government out of the people's lives. Yet, what they are actually trying to do is precisely to become part of the government that they wish to emasculate."

I think you have answered your own question. It's kind of hard to emasculate the government if you don't have a position of power within it.

However, I think you do touch on something important. It is actually a longstanding problem within the conservative movement that a conservative individual's desire to be involved in the nuts-and-bolts of politics is often inversely proportional to their ideological integrity. Worse yet, many-if-not-most conservatives consider politics to be a morally suspect carreer. I know more than a few conservative parents whose willingness to fund their children's college education is conditional on the kids not pursuing law or political science as a major, because "I'm not gonna contribute a dime to putting another damn lawyer or politican on this planet". As an advocate of a much smaller, less robust, less intrusive government, one of the things I find so exciting about the Tea Party movement is that it has woken those exact types of people up to the realization that they have inadvertently ceded their government over to the very types of public officials (both Republican and Democrat) whose attitudes make them despise politics in the first place.

But yes, as they get involved, their intent is to reduce and decentralize the amount of government in our lives, which entails taking a lot of the power of federal politicians and returning it to states and local communities, which leaves federal politicians with less governing to do. On that issue you are correct.

eric said...

Interesting article that speaks on this issue.

Interestingly, when the Dems took control of Congress in 2006, 45% of the Freshman legislators had never held a public office before.
It seems almost nobody likes politicians!

I can think of a local issue that my community is dealing with that is a good example of this situation. As with many small towns in a down economy, we are experiencing a municipal budget crisis. Our city leaders want to address this crisis by cutting police, fire, and EMS budgets and personell, while also raising fees for municipal utility services. However our city also subsidizes some less urgent municipal projects, inlcuding a public pool, public library, and a municipal golf course (the golf course being by far the most heavily subsidized). There is a group of citizens who are gaining momentum with the case that if we are going to cut back on public services, these need to go first, that the community would be better off with no library but at least 6 firemen, no golf course but two active EMS crews, no public pool but at least two on-duty police officers at all times. This group of citizens succesfully "obstructed" a city council attempt to make a motion to lay off some policemen and firemen, because they thought they had a better idea of how the city's budgetary goals could be realized. The City Council members do not even seem to take the idea of shuttering the golf course (or the pool, or the library) seriously, and so far have refused to put it up for discussion, so the civic group is recruiting more and more people to come in to the city council meeting and continue their obstructionary tactics until the idea is given some discussion. They are committed to not letting the city council act, if their actions would cut police, firemen, or EMS duties. The group is also electing a few individuals to run for city council seats in next year's election.

So I ask you, are these people interested in governing, albeit with a different set of priorities than the current government, or are they guilty of the same kind of anti-government obstructionist tactics you accuse the GOP of? Do you at least see some parallels here?

Huck said...

Eric - Of course, the example you provide is one where I would say that the people seem to be interested in governing. But I do wonder if how you present it is accurate: it strikes me as unlikely that their idea is not being given some discussion. It strikes me as more likely that the different ideas have been discussed, but that the obstructionists are not satisfied that the discussion has not resulted in their preferred outcome. Even still, I would say that if the purpose of the "obstruction" is to forward concrete policy positions relative to governing, then it falls within a more acceptable range of behavior.

But if you read my posting a bit more carefully, you will see that my objective is that much of the rhetoric coming out of conservative campaigns these days is not about specific policy proposals representing a differing governing philosophy, but rather an unnuanced anti-government platform. Now that may not be what these campaigns really believe, but that is the message that is often being sent. So I would say the most generous interpretation of what I am getting at is that the campaign rhetoric is contradictory to the actual goals of the campaign. These campaigns are probably as interested in governing as any other campaign (which is why they are mounted in the first place), but to phrase the campaign as an anti-government populist movement is simply disingenuous. That's why I say such conservatives are spinning us a yarn. They are preaching one thing about government out one side of their mouths, but I suspect don't really believe what they are saying -- otherwise, why would they be interested in governing?!