Saturday, January 23, 2010

Conservatism, Government Failure and the Democrats

"What conservatism in this country is about is government failure. Conservatives talk about government failure all the time, constantly. And conservatives, when they're in power deliver government failure."
Bill Moyer asks Thomas Frank: How is it that the people who are responsible for the mess that Obama inherited are getting away with demonizing him when he's only had less than a year to clean it up. Let me show you just a sample of commentators railing against the President.
RUSH LIMBAUGH: President Obama and the Democrats are destroying the US economy. They are purposefully doing it, I believe.

GLENN BECK: This is a well-thought out plan to collapse the economy as we know it.

JONATHAN HOENIG: The president has, I think if you listen to what he says, a hatred for capitalism. Where do jobs come from? They don't come from the government, they come from the profit seeking self-interest, from what I hear and see, the President never misses an opportunity to smear and [no audio] slap!

RUSH LIMBAUGH: This guy is a coward. He does not have the gonads or the spine to even stand up and accept what he's doing! All of this is his doing. He cannot even probably say, you should like this -- you may not like this, but I'm telling you it's the best thing for you, it's the best thing for me. No! He knows it's a disaster, he has to slough this off, on his previous-- or his predecessor, the previous administration.

SEAN HANNITY: It's his stimulus. It's his record deficit spending. He quadrupled the debt in a year. You know, how many more are the Democrats going to say, "Well, it's George Bush's fault"? This is Obama's economy now.[...]
THOMAS FRANK: Well, that's the disease of our time. You know, that sort of instant forgetting.

BILL MOYERS: But what does it do to our politics when the very spokesmen for what some people have called a decade of conservative failure. I mean, remember before Obama, they turned a budget surplus into a deficit. They took us to war on fraudulent pretenses. They borrowed money to fight it. They presided over a stalemate in Afghanistan. They trashed the Constitution. They presided over the weakest economy in decades--[...]

THOMAS FRANK: Think of all the crises and the disasters that you've described. And I would add to them things like the, what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. And the Madoff scandal on Wall Street. And, you know, on and on and on. The Jack Abramoff scandal. The whole sordid career of Tom DeLay.

All of these things that we remember from the last decade. I mean, some of them that we're forgetting. Like who remembers all the scandals over earmarking, anymore? And who remembers all the scandals over Iraq reconstruction? All that, you know, disastrous, when we would hand it off to a private contractor to rebuild Iraq. And it would, you know, of course, it would fail.

Those things have all sort of been dwarfed by the economic disaster and the wreckage on Wall Street. But I would say to you that all of these things that we're describing here are of a piece. And that they all flow from the same ideas. And those ideas are the sort of conservative attitude towards government. And conservative attitudes towards governance. Okay?

Inferior government is by design.
THOMAS FRANK: Yeah. Well, or you know, do away with it altogether, de-fund it. Look, the beginning in the 1980s, President Reagan came to office and came to power, and you remember the kind of rhetoric that he used to use in denouncing the Federal workforce. He hated the Federal workforce. And this is an article of faith among conservatives.

There's something called the pay gap that they used to talk about a lot in Washington, D.C. Which is, back in the '50s, '60s, and up into the 1970s, Federal workers were paid a comparable amount to what people in the private sector earned. Okay? So, if you're a lawyer working for the government, you got about as much as a lawyer working in the private sector.

Not as much, because government benefits are considered to be much better. Okay. Under Reagan, you had this huge gap open up between Federal workers and the private sector. I asked around. And I found out a government attorney makes $140,000 a year on retirement. After he's been there all his life. In the private sector law firm in Washington, you'd be making $160,000 starting salary. That's first year. Right out of law school.

BILL MOYERS: So what's the consequence of this pay gap you described? Or, do we get inferior government because of it?

THOMAS FRANK: Absolutely. It keeps the best and the brightest out of government service, unless you're really dedicated to a cause.

But let me go one step further with this, Bill. When I say this is done by design, I'm not exaggerating. And this is one of the more surprising things that I found when I was doing the research for "The Wrecking Crew," is that there's a whole conservative literature on why you want second-rate people in government, or third-rate.

I found an interview with the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce from 1928, where he said-- this quote, it's mind-boggling to me. But he really said this. "The best public servant is the worst one." Okay? You want bad people in government. You want to deliberately staff government with second-rate people. Because if you have good people in government, government will work. And then the public will learn to trust government. And then they'll hand over more power to it.

And you don't want that, of course. Your Chamber of Commerce. And I thought, when I first read this, "That's a crazy idea. I can't believe that sentiment." And then I found it repeated again and again and again. Throughout the long history of the conservative movement. This is something they believe very deeply.
Part of the problem is what the Democrats don't do!
BILL MOYERS: Why? So, part of the problem with America is the Democratic Party?

THOMAS FRANK: A huge part of the problem, because look, the conservatives have for decades now made their-- the whole point of their party is to attack government, attack the state, encourage cynicism about government. And then wreck it when they're in charge, right?

Democrats never defend the state. They never come out and say, "No, no. It's important to have, you know, government. It's important to have a Department of Labor. These are, you know, having government actually-- a good government increases your freedom. It doesn't ruin it." They never fight back consistently.


THOMAS FRANK: I think they're-- some of them do. You've got members of Congress here and there that do. But by and large, the prominent leading Democrats in our society don't do that. Why is that? Because I think that would get them in trouble with their funders. I mean, the power of money is huge in the political system. You know, despite all the efforts that have been made over the years to get money out of politics. It's still immensely powerful.

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