Government Is the Enemy
At a press conference on August 12, 1986, President Ronald Reagan said, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” This statement was the beginning of something, but it certainly was not the end, and I’m sure Ronald Reagan would be appalled at how far the Republican Party has run with this catchy bit of antigovernment rhetoric.
The message from Reagan was clear: the government is inept, perhaps even harmful in its attempts to help American citizens. But it also indicative of a fundamental conservative belief: namely, that almost everything is better if left to the free market. And this is a fundamental difference between the two major political parties. To Democrats, government is the people’s tool to address sticky problems that the market either ignores (i.e., limited access to health care) or exacerbates (i.e., pollution). To Republicans, government is not only ineffective, but likely evil. Government is the enemy. According to conservative lobbyist Grover Norquist, “My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” The difference in these perspectives led humorist P. J. O’Rourke to comment, “The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer, and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then they get elected and prove it.”
These different perspectives on government have led to two very different approaches to solving problems. On the left, this means passing legislation or taking executive action to address problems like out-of-control health-care costs, millions of Americans without health insurance, global warming, gun violence, economic inequality, crumbling infrastructure, and the high cost of a college education. On the right, this means literally trying to take health insurance from millions of Americans, pushing for more fossil fuel production and consumption, giving tax breaks to the wealthy (because taxes are evil), defunding the IRS (which only reduces revenues and increases the national debt Republicans claim to abhor), kicking the infrastructure can down the road (until “infrastructure week” became a sick joke), and keeping the minimum wage as low as possible (it hasn’t changed since 2009).
Republicans generally believe that a small government is good government. But this ignores one massive problem: the abuses of authoritarian business entities such as multinational corporations. This is not a new problem, and former Republican President Teddy Roosevelt recognized this 110 years ago. Nothing has really changed in those years except that the problem has gotten a lot larger.
In an address at the Coliseum in San Francisco on September 14, 1912, when Roosevelt was running for a third term as a presidential candidate for the progressive “Bull Moose” party, he said this: “The people of the United States have but one instrument which they can efficiently use against the colossal combinations of business—and that instrument is the government of the United States. . . . Remember that it is absolutely impossible to limit the power of these great corporations whose enormous power constitutes so serious a problem in modern industrial life except by extending the power of the government. All that these great corporations ask is that the power of the government shall be limited. . . . There once was a time in history when the limitation of governmental power meant increasing liberty for the people. In the present day the limitation of governmental power, of governmental action, means the enslavement of the people by the great corporations who can only be held in check through the extension of governmental power.”
Corporate interests have purchased influence in government by basically purchasing politicians. And this is a problem for both parties. But it is a far greater problem on the right. The Democrats are still determined to increase the well-being of the lower and middle classes. The Republicans, on the other hand, may talk a good populist game, but when you look at what they support in terms of legislation, they almost exclusively enact laws to help the wealthy and the corporate behemoths. Tax cuts and corporate welfare and allowing corporations to self-regulate are high on the GOP’s agenda. And as Roosevelt made clear, when you try to shrink government, what you are really doing is shrinking the ability of government to rein in corporate abuses. Consider all the EPA pollution regulations the Trump administration rescinded. Whom does that help? Not me, and not you.
So, if you believe in democracy, that the power should reside in the people, then you must also agree that government is the only tool we as citizens have to serve our needs, some of which are desperate. But if you believe the rhetoric that began with Ronald Reagan and has only intensified over the years, claiming that government is the problem, then the Republican Party is where you belong. I would hope that Latter-day Saints would be for democracy, and not for a government of the corporation, by the corporation, and for the corporation.