I'm not quite sure which kind of hypocrisy irks me more, right-wing media outlets complaining about "The Media" or right-wing government employees complaining about "The Government." Tonight, in the GOP response to the President's State of the Union Address, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers went on what can fairly be described as an anti-government tear. "...Republican vision… One that empowers you, not the government…"
"trusts people to make their own decisions, not a government that decides for you."
"...To grow the working middle class, not the government..."
"...more spending, government bailouts, and red tape…"
"...health care choices should be yours, not the government’s."
Sensing a theme? By the end, I think she was literally choking on her own hatred of the government - the precise institution that she works for!
But it's worse than that. She started off with a mini-biography about how she pulled herself up by her bootstraps, working at the McDonald's drive-thru to put herself through college. Buried in that bio, she mentioned that her father was a school bus driver. Now, it is possible, though unlikely, that her dad worked for a private school. I tried to confirm either way and couldn't find out that detail in any of her bios online. But since most school bus drivers drive for the public schools, and since most private schools don't employ their own bus drivers (at least in rural areas where I work and where McMorris Rodgers grew up), this means her father was, more than likely, a government employee. So while she was working at McDs to put herself through school, the food she was eating around the kitchen table and the roof over her head were paid for, in part, by the hard work that her father did for the evil government she kept deriding.
And this gets at the heart of why I am so frequently irritated when I hear people griping about "the government." Do you know who gets kids to schools safely and brings them home safely to their families each day? The government. And who teaches them and cares for them while they are at school? The government. And the police and firefighters who keep those families safe? The government.
Now, when pressed, I expect most conservatives would say, "Well, that's not the part of the government I have a problem with."
Oh, so you like local services but dislike the evil "Federal Government"?
"Yeah, that's what I really mean."
Yeah, except that most of the employees of the federal government work for the military, and conservatives seem to like them.
"Well, sure, that's not the part of the federal government I have a problem with."
"No, not them either."
The treasury that prints your money?
"Well, there are those activist judges I dislike and the activist judges I like (because when they agree with me they aren't activist judges anymore), but no, that's not the part of the government I mean."
Then what? Homeland Security? Agriculture? Interior? Transportation? Commerce? Labor? Energy? Housing and Urban Development? NASA?
"No, not those."
Um, The Tennessee Valley Authority?
"I don't like the IRS!"
So you like all the parts except for the part that collects the taxes that make them all possible?
"No. I don't like all the parts. I don't like the EPA!"
Yeah. Clean water is a bitch. Mercury and lead are tasty; no argument there.
See, here's where I think the average conservative voter and their political leaders part ways. They can both hum along to the same "the government" dog whistle, but it means two different things to each. To the voter, it means "I like most of the parts of the government, but I vote for the team that doesn't want it to work because I don't like the team that makes it work." Is that an oversimplification? Yes. But we need these people. This conservative impulse is actually good, because, in a measured degree, it could save us all from government overreach which is a real thing that could happen if the only people in power were the ones who believe in government solutions. They would wield the tools they have (government solutions) for everything, and that would be bad. We need conservative voters.
What we do not need are right-wing politicians who mean something very different when they say "the government." Because if you do a close reading of McMorris Rodgers' speech, she's not talking about the NSA (clear government overreach) or drone strikes. She's talking about taking away limits. This is another code for "regulations," another word the Republicans have tried to make into swear word. And I worry that it's working and that people don't give that a second thought. Because while stupid regulations are bad, Republicans don't propose smart regulations. They oppose all regulation on principle; the rules that keep your water clean, that prevent your car from being a ticking time bomb, that try (and often fail) from keeping the banking industry from throwing away your life savings. Why?
Because what Republican politicians really want, in spite of the fact that conservative voters actually like a lot of government programs, is to cash in on all those potential markets. Schools? Privatize them all. Police? More money to be made in private security forces. The military? Blackwater mercenaries. EPA? Let Exxon Mobile do whatever it wants. What bad things could possibly come from that?
Now, of course this irks me because I'm a public sector employee who firmly believes that all children in the world's richest nation deserve a free, high quality public education. But this goes beyond self interest. I overhear my students in the halls parroting this anti-government propaganda and I can't say anything because that wouldn't be appropriate. I oversee my former students grousing about the government on Facebook and twitter, and it depresses me.
Despite Republican's claims to be the "party of personal responsibility," this constant anti-government drum beat has diminished a whole generation's sense that they need to take personal responsibility for their government. It becomes "the government," this nebulous entity that can only wreak havoc on their young lives. What they don't see is that, unlike the corporation they work for, the government is an entity they own and control. It's certainly not perfect and it's not the solution for everything, but it is an entity that belongs to all of us. The government is an extension of We the People. Anti-government rhetoric from people who carry around little copies of the Constitution seems like the most bitter form of irony to me. Read the first three words! The government is us. And if we don't like it, we shouldn't complain about some institution out there. We should fix it. Because it's ours. The people who hate the government hate something we have created (or failed to create due to our apathy), and that should be an insult to all of us.
The insult is even more severe when those people work for that government or are asking for our permission to go to work for it.
So tell me the government should change in this way or that way. I can appreciate that. Tell me you want to reign in this specific part or alter this other specific part. But don't sneer every time you mention the government until you're literally choking at the end of your speech. Because that government belongs to us.