we’ve . . . clearly seen the dangers of too little government -– like when a lack of accountability on Wall Street nearly leads to the collapse of our entire economy. (Applause.) [It’s] not whether we need “big government” or a “small government,” but how we can create a smarter and better government. (Applause.) . . . government . . . should give you the tools you need to succeed.
--Barack Obama, University of Michigan Commencement Address
Wow. Look. Obama forced to defend big government. It’s a subject he’d much prefer to ignore.
Democrats are the party of government. Government workers at every level are Democrats’ base of support. Academics work directly or indirectly for the government, non-profits (the Third Sector) depend in part or totally on government support, the media, arts, the entertainment industry, and trial lawyers have incomes dependent all or in part on government-protected rights, grants, or laws, increasing portions of big business depend on special protections negotiated with government, and Democrats have persuaded blacks, Hispanics, and unmarried women that government protects them against a threatening private sector jungle.
Since Democrats and a powerful national government joined forces during the Depression, the ability to rally voters behind the goal of supporting an expanding government has depended on defining a threat outside government that is bigger than government’s shortcomings. The outside threat shields voters from worries about a growing, large, inefficient government, and the higher taxes needed to support it.
From 1932 to 1938, Roosevelt successfully blamed America’s woes on “economic royalists” and their Republican friends, including Herbert Hoover. Hitler’s conquest of Europe and Pearl Harbor shifted our attention to the bigger threat overseas (1939-45), then Truman and Kennedy persuaded us Soviet Communism justified big government during the post-war era (1946-63).
The civil rights struggle, equal rights for women, and environmentalism gave Democrats and government the high ground from 1963 to Reagan’s victory. Two parties, only one on the side of the angels. But following Reagan’s defeat of Jimmy Carter in 1980, “the Gipper” finally persuaded us government might be our biggest problem. Reagan pushed through the Democrats’ shield and exposed the party of government for what it was.
Democrats regained their footing by branding Washington Republicans’ inability to manage government the real issue—government was the problem only because the wrong people ran it. This worked as Iran-Contra helped Democrats re-capture the senate in 1986, when George H.W. Bush couldn’t keep the economy humming in 1992, when Newt Gingrich forced government to close in 1995, when Republicans spent a year trying to impeach Clinton in 1998, when George W. Bush in 2005-6 couldn’t win in Iraq and couldn’t save lives during Hurricane Katrina, and when the economy crashed in 2008. Each act of Republican incompetence allowed Democrats to argue they did government better.
Now all power is in the hands of Democrats, they have fully used their strength to make government bigger, fatter, more all-controlling than ever, and there is no way, no way at all, to blame any of it on Washington Republicans. So now the shield isn’t just down, it’s shattered. We see Democrats for what they are, standing before us, naked, the party of big government, wanting more, and more, and more, with no idea of how to stop gorging themselves.
Still, Democrats win if more than half the voters see their lives benefiting from monster government. Yet they lose, if voters understand the healthy, job-creating economy voters crave depends on less, not more, government.