Argument: Republicans radically advocate eliminating key regs, progs, depts
Government is Good: "these ideologues’ criticisms of government are also much more sweeping than the typical complaints about government voiced by most Americans. Consider, for example, the issue of wasteful government bureaucracies. Most of us strongly support efforts to cut the “fat” out of government bureaucracies and to make them more efficient. But for proponents of minimal government, this kind of reform is really beside the point. As one early icon of the anti-government movement, Barry Goldwater, explained it: “I have little interest in streamlining government or making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size.”1 And by “reducing,” they often mean lopping off entire agencies and programs. The conservative hit list of agencies that should be eliminated has at various times included the Department of Education, Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Commerce, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, plus hundreds of other small agencies and programs. They don’t want to cut fat; they want to cut meat.
Americans also sometimes have problems with government regulations. We can all probably identify at least a few regulations that seem particularly wrongheaded or burdensome, and we would certainly support changing or eliminating them. But many anti-government zealots condemn the legitimacy of government regulation itself. Some conservative legal scholars actually argue that the federal government has no constitutional right to regulate the workplace or the environment.2 And most libertarian-leaning conservatives would reduce regulations drastically – even those protecting our health and safety. Dick Armey, former Majority Leader of the U.S. House, seriously proposed that we eliminate half of all federal regulations. He didn’t specify which ones – he just seemed to know that half of them were unneeded. Another Republican House Leader, Tom DeLay, went Dick Armey one better and actually told a reporter that he could not think of a single federal regulation he would like to leave in place.3 Such irresponsible and extreme hostility toward consumer protection, environmental, health, and workplace regulations is clearly out of touch with mainstream America. Only a very small minority of Americans – less than 18% – say the want less government regulation of most industries.
Some Americans also have issues with our social safety net programs, but they are usually confined to complaints about welfare payments going to people who do not really need them. In general, most Americans strongly support programs like Social Security, unemployment insurance, Medicare, and the minimum wage. However, many in the anti-government crusade want to get government out of the business of providing this kind of economic security for Americans. For example, some leading conservative intellectuals like Charles Murray don’t just want to cut back on welfare, they want to eliminate it entirely. In his famous book, Losing Ground, he proposed “scrapping” welfare, Medicaid, and food stamps and leaving the poor to be taken care of by friends, churches, and charities.5 Minimum wage and workplace anti-discrimination policies have also come under attack as improper uses of government power. Even unemployment insurance is looked upon with great suspicion by some critics of government. As Ronald Reagan, an anti-government icon, once declared: “Unemployment insurance is a pre-paid vacation for freeloaders.”6 And he did not think much better of Medicaid, whose recipients he once described as “a faceless mass, waiting for handouts.”
George W. Bush’s attempts to “reform” Social Security also revealed a deep underlying hostility toward social programs in general. A limited-circulation memo written in January 2005 by Peter Wehner, the director of the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives, was particularly instructive in this regard. He made it clear that an essential part of the privatization plan was to actually reduce benefits and weaken Social Security, and he said that any proposal that didn’t include this was a “bad idea.” More importantly, he revealed how radical the privatization effort really was. “The overhaul of Social Security will be one of the most conservative undertakings of modern times. And if successful, will rank as one of the most significant conservative governing achievements ever.” The ultimate goal of this effort, he concluded, was to “help the nation move away from dependency on government.”8 There is a clear refusal here to realize what most Americans know to be true: that it is sometimes necessary for us to use collective institutions like government to deal with the many serious financial risks and insecurities that are part of living in a modern market economy – risks like unemployment, retirement, sudden illness, and so on. Remarkably, some anti-government activists are even against our public schools. For much of our history, public schools have been seen as a vital symbol of our nation’s commitment to equal opportunity for all. But in their zeal to condemn anything and everything governmental, some conservatives have set their sights on greatly reducing or even eliminating public education. As Thomas Johnson of the Future of Freedom Foundation has explained:
Famous supporters of public education include Hitler, Stalin, Castro, Mao Zedong, Mussolini …. The best possible reform that could ever be affected is eliminating completely politicized socialist government schools and replacing them with private, profit-making, and charitable education businesses that offer courses of instruction only to willing customers.9 And it's not only far-out libertarians like Johnson who express these kinds of hostile views of our public schools – these ideas extend into the mainstream of the conservative movement. Conservative luminaries including Milton Friedman, Dinesh D’Souza, Howard Phillips, and Marvin Olasky have publicly endorsed the goal of eliminating public education.10 A story told by Reed Hundt, head of the Federal Communication Commission in the Clinton administration, illustrates just how deep the conservative contempt for public schools can go. He had a meeting with William Bennett, who had been Secretary of Education under Ronald Reagan, in order to ask him to support a bill in Congress that would have paid for internet access in all classrooms and libraries in the country. [Bennett] told me he would not help, because he did not want public schools to obtain new funding, new capability, new tools for success. He wanted them, he said, to fail so that they could be replaced with vouchers, charter schools, religious schools and other forms of private education. [read more in Government is Good article].