Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Failure of Reaganism

Since the 1970s, the Republican Party has fallen increasingly under the influence of radical ideologues, whose goal is nothing less than the elimination of the welfare state — that is, the whole legacy of the New Deal and the Great Society. From the beginning, however, these ideologues have had a big problem: The programs they want to kill are very popular. Americans may nod their heads when you attack big government in the abstract, but they strongly support Social Security, Medicare, and even Medicaid.

With Hurricane Sandy, the Ronald Reagan-inspired Republican policy of preferring small government, or even better, private industry, to big government took a really hard hit. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney said back in May 2011:

... every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better,” Romney responded.
“Instead of thinking in the federal budget, ‘What we should cut?’ we should ask ourselves the opposite question, ‘What should we keep?’ We should take all of what we’re doing at the federal level and say, ‘What are the things we’re doing that we don’t have to do?’ And those things we’ve got to stop doing,” Romney continued.

But all of the sudden, Romney recognized that he had a very poor case on his hands and that big government wasn't looking so bad, after all. Very understandably, Romney dodged questions about whether, as president, he'd continue to support the existence of FEMA. Understandable, but in doing that, he essentially conceded that the whole right-wing argument for shrinking the government was kind of silly. As Krugman points out, even after many decades of anti-big-government talking points being put out by the Republican Party, members of the public "strongly support [big government programs such as] Social Security, Medicare, and even Medicaid."

The fire at a factory in Bangladesh that was producing clothes for sale by Walmart was another hard blow to the right-wing, Republican project of "getting big government off the backs of the people" of industry. It turns out that corporations will not, after all, effectively regulate themselves and will cut expenditures on safety in the name of making bigger profits.

In late November, there was a toxic train wreck in Paulsboro, NJ, where whole freight cars full of a flammable gas known as vinyl chloride, used to make PVC plastics, were derailed and fell into the Mantua Creek. Of course, the industry that produces vinyl chloride has been tramsporting and handling "massive amounts of toxins with minimal oversight," which works really good until one day it doesn't.

A local blogger found a March 2010 survey that gauged public attitudes toward Republicans:

Here are the perceptions “where the Republicans seemed in trouble”:
“The Republicans are not for the average person…”
“The Republicans do not champion the public interest….
“The Republicans put the needs of big corporate interests ahead of the ordinary citizen….”
“Though the Republicans are strong on moral values, only half the voters think Republicans share their values and priorities….”
“Republicans may be going too far in pushing their religious conservative agenda….”
“They are not heralded for their economic policies….”
“They are not heralded on the environment….”
“They are not heralded for how they relate to the world….”
“They are the establishment….”

In other words, the Republican project of shrinking big government down to size has resulted in nothing more than that the American people regard the party as heartless and heedless of the damage they're causing in the name of their small-government ideology.