At times, there seems to be an ongoing debate amongst conservative members of congress on who or what they hate the most: President Obama or the federal government. There is no doubt that they dislike both with great passion, and want each to fail. Back when Mitch McConnell said that his top political priority was to make Obama a one term president, he could have just as easily meant to make the government implode -- in order to prove once and for all that it has no right to regulate business, help the neediest, or do anything other than enforce the law and defend it from other nations -- in other words, a night-watchman state.
Since the time of Reagan, the American right has become more and more hostile towards the government, and the 20th century policies of social democracy. The election of Obama increased this hostility, and since entering office seven years ago, conservatives have done everything in their power to stop Obama’s moderate policies. (Anyone who truly thinks Obama is a leftist needs to read up on the New Deal -- and Marx.) Throughout Obama’s first term, he desperately tried to find common ground with Republicans (to the great dismay of many on the left), but finding common ground with modern Republicans has proven to be an act of futility.
This single-minded hatred of the President and the federal government has resulted in one of the most dysfunctional congresses in history, and it’s not an accident. Indeed, the “worst congress ever” (that is, the 113th congress) -- which managed accomplish just about nothing, except shutting down the government and costing the economy somewhere around $24 billion(thanks Ted!) -- has created so much disillusionment that many Americans have lost faith in government, which is just what anti-government right wingers want.
And now, it is looking more and more like the government is headed for yet another shutdown because, among other things, extremist Republicans (the only kind left, it seems) do not want to provide the women’s health organization Planned Parenthood with a measly $500 million (measly when compared to the $2 trillion used on a disastrous war in Iraq, which the GOP never complained about).
Sometimes it seems like the only reasonable Republican is not even really a Republican (and not at all reasonable) -- by which I mean Donald Trump. Trump was, after all, the only Republican candidate who did not jump on the campaign to defund Planned Parenthood last month, although he has since had a mental relapse, it seems.
The self-righteous moralizing has been non-stop, even after the Planned Parenthood videos that implied the organization was profiting off of abortion were quickly debunked as deceptively edited hit pieces. But is Planned Parenthood really why the government will likely shutdown? Or is it just that extremist GOPers want the government to fail, and have found an excuse that many of their constituents sympathize with? (Overall, Americans still strongly support federal funds for PP, and defunding is not going to happen anytime soon.)
The dysfunction of the past five years has surely contributed to the current populist air, especially on the right. Last Summer, trust in congress had fallen to an all time low of 7 percent, according to Gallup, while the Supreme Court hit a record low of 30% and the presidency 29% (a six year low).
So who would stand to benefit if the government did dissolve into a night-watchman state, as many conservatives would like? The most “anti-government” movement in the mainstream is libertarianism, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that billionaire oil men like the Koch brothers are at the forefront of it. Indeed, super-rich capitalists would benefit the most if government completely stepped out of their way, while the poorest Americans would fall into destitution, as in the past.
But here’s the thing about the government: it can be good or bad, depending on who the leaders are. During the New Deal, for example, the government was loved by the people. FDR’s policies benefited the middle class and working people, and for the first time in American history, the government made sure that workers could organize -- the opposite of what it had represented before, more or less acting as corporate America’s security force when workers got out of line.
During the New Deal/post-war era, the government wasn’t necessarily on the side of labor, but it was at the very least neutral, and made sure that workers were on equal ground when negotiating with industries. This changed sometime in the seventies, and the government has been on the side of corporate America for about forty years now. It is no coincidence that the richest have gotten richer over this period, while everyone else has seen their wealth stagnate. There are obviously other factors that contributed to this, including globalization and technological innovation -- but had the government been on the side of the people, or in other words, had government leaders backed workers and rejected the false supply-side worldview, wealth inequality probably wouldn’t be at the same high as in 1929.
A good government must be on the side of the people, and right now, we do not have this. We have a government full of politicians who have to spend half of their working day courting campaign donors. While certain leaders do fight for the people, most politicians are simply too desperate for cash to truly make a stand (Obama gets a lot of flak as being a corporatist, and much of it is deserved, but when the congress is full of anti-government extremists, it’s an uphill battle). A government for the people does not mean a government that is anti-business -- indeed, a government for the people is a government for small businesses. A government that gives multi-national corporations more power over workers than they already have is a government that is against the people.
Currently, we have a pretty bad government, and the likely shutdown at the end of the month will once again reveal its disfunction. This does not mean, however, that government cannot work. It means that certain anti-government demagogues, like Joe McCarthy’s spiritual descendant, Ted Cruz, will do whatever they can to make it fail. They will cost the economy billions of dollars because of their dogma, and will utilize social animosities to do so. But history shows that government can work and can do good for the people, no matter how often anti-government zealots like to claim otherwise.