Over the past 24-48 hours, I have been involved in an "email" debate among long-time friends of differing ideological viewpoints. In that debate, a very good and long-time friend of mine, someone whose friendship dates back 30 years, asked me the following question:
Jimmy, why do you love the federal government?My friend comes from a very privileged background. He is extremely smart. One of the smartest people I know. He graduated from Stanford University and later finished at the top of his med school class. He is now a successful and prominent dermatologist. I'm happy for him and don't begrudge him his success one iota. He's earned it. But it is also the fact that he has never known material deprivation in his life. He has never experienced poverty. He is also a Tea Party, Rush Limbaugh conservative and he absolutely loathes the federal government -- hence his question to me. This is how I responded:
I wouldn't say that I "love" the federal government. But I will say that the federal work-study program and the subsidized college loan program made it possible for me, leech that I am on the American taxpayer, to get a college education that my parents could not afford. And I'm grateful to the federal government for that. And without the FHA, my parents would not have been able to raise their family in a modest home out in Kenner. Additionally, there was a short time in my family's life when I was a kid during which the food stamp program put food on the table. I'm grateful for that, too. I also know a whole bunch of folks, including a fair number of conservatives, who managed to rebuild a life and a home after Hurricane Katrina because of the evil and useless federal government.
Maybe the federal government has never been important to your life, [insert name of my friend]; but it has made a positive difference in mine and in that of many other people I know. It ain't perfect, but it can fill a void that needs filling when no other entity is able or willing to step up to the plate.There are many Tea Party conservatives whose lives are made better, or whose lives have been made better, in some way by the federal government and its programs -- whether its the GI bill, the Medicare program, SBA loan programs, Federal Student Loan programs, public works and infrastructure projects, federally-subsidized vaccination programs, FHA first-time home buyer loan programs, the FEMA federal flood insurance program, etc. Historical memory is short for many beneficiaries of these programs, who tend to forget these things once their feet become firmly planted on the ground. Of course, even people like my friend, who never suffered such deprivation so as to require the social safety net programs of the Federal Government, tend not to think of how the federal government has been a benefit to their welfare, too (through access to tax breaks, credits, and subsidized business loan programs that poor people aren't eligible for). I just wish more of these folks would acknowledge this.