The reason I have so little respect for Small Government, drown-it-in-the-bathtub arguments, and often the people who spout them, is that when the proverbial excrement hits the fan, every person in this country howls for the gub'mint to save him like a baby that needs its bottle. As a nation we whine incessantly about it and vote for people who vow to destroy it, but there will be hell to pay if it isn't there immediately to fix things when the (hurricane/tornado/wildfire/drought/blizzard/plague of locusts) comes. Why can't Washington cut my taxes while also protecting me from every conceivable threat?

Earlier this year, Rick Perry demanded that the Obama administration declare Texas a disaster area due to wildfires, the primary advantage of which from the states' perspective is the ability to send FEMA a bill. When disaster declarations are made, Washington typically lets states handle the disaster but repay around 75% of the costs. So yes, that was Rick Perry demanding that the government (of the nation he wants to secede from) asking Congress cut him a check…
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and then throwing a bitch fit when it said No.

Chris Christie will be following Perry's example soon now that New Jersey has sustained what he estimates as "billions" of dollars in damage. I guess New Jersey's budget is a little short and the legions of Tea Party volunteers aren't going to be handling the cleanup and rebuilding. Do I blame states and their residents for wanting the government to provide disaster relief? No. I blame them for insisting that Government is Evil, sometimes actively working to dismantle it, until the tornado turns their house and community into a pile of twigs. A little consistency is too much to expect, apparently.

Not surprisingly, people who actually know a thing or two about emergency management are worried that "deficit fever" severely limits the government's ability to respond to major disasters. FEMA's hurricane response is forcing it to eliminate or delay tornado relief projects in Joplin, MO. The public at large, and even non-profit organizations, tend to forget about affected communities as soon as the cameras leave town and the story goes stale. The government and its army of bureaucrats have always been relied upon to stay until the job is done. Neither the resources nor the will power are forthcoming from any other source.

Since the media and the right are in love with the Federal budget as Household budget analogy, it's surprising (but not really) that the idea of saving for a rainy day is so far beyond them. Anyone who lives paycheck to paycheck knows that you can never get ahead financially because…well, shit keeps happening. The car breaks down, the kids get sick, and so on.

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When your budget and expenses are equal almost to the penny, every unexpected expense is a back breaker.

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Now that our Beltway betters have decided that the government will be run on a shoestring with an eye toward hollowing it out even further in the coming years, I suppose that recovering from hurricanes and flooding is another area in which it is time for Rugged Individualism to shine.

40 thoughts on “LAST RESORT”

  • "Why can't Washington cut my taxes while also protecting me from every conceivable threat?"

    In my experience of the Conservative Mind, it's more like "The Goverment is collecting my taxes SO NOW IT MUST protect me from every conceiveable threat. Anything less totally justifies my endless demands for lower taxes."

    I'm sure there's a sexy term for this type of argument, but I can't think of it right now.

    Also, 1st!

  • What eau describes isn't a formal fallacy, alas (It doesn't have a fancy name, but it has a slogan: 'one philosopher's modus ponens is another's modus tollens'). Each party waiting for the other to make the first concession is one of those dialectic traps people can get caught in for… well, centuries, if something doesn't come along to snap them out of it.

    One of the things likely to keep people within this dielectical trap – and never mind the dialectical trap, it'll keep us in dire straits – is the fact that the people who do most to dismantle the support network are not the ones most in need of it. It's easy to make sacrifices when it's other people who suffer.

  • The fairytale we always hear is that when shit goes down the rugged individuals will band together and help each other get back on their feet. When they realize that this is hard, and expensive, it never really pans out.

    Amazing: a group of people that consider greed good, and selfishness a virtue, aren't all that willing to help each other for mutual benefit (add this to the fact that they wouldn't be able to pull it off anyways). Hell I think they all know that if they rebuild John's house, John will no longer be helping rebuild Mary's. I mean why would he? What does he have to gain?

  • It cracks me up to no end that Wild West libertarians so often also get all bent out of shape at the Feds abandoning at-all-cost fire suppression. They don't think the government should be powerful enough to collect taxes, but but that is should be able to keep millions of acres of dead brush from catching fire. In Texas. In the summer.

  • Middle Seaman says:

    Socialism for the rich is an American special. Banks want to, and do, pay 15% taxes on capital gains but they also want trillions in government subsidies. Hell, don't regulate them, they know their business better than any f..king government apparatchik.

    It is a state/country version of the godly theory of: what's mine is mine and what's yours is mine too. I'll keep my money and you'll build the roads and bridges. You don't need my taxes because you waste them, but you have to protect my beach house from erosion you must.

    It a very solid and accepted approach. After all, almost 50% of Americans believe in it.

  • I know too many of these people. My best friend has been voting Republican since Goldwater. He's 72 and still working for the health coverage. Just had lung cancer surgery and is back at work. He was shocked that he couldn't get disability. He's been on social security since age 62. He lost most of his 401(k) in the 2001 crash. Still watching Fox news, but I think my constant "they're lying to you" is getting through to him.

    He lives in a gated community around a lake. All the fish in the lake died last year. I think it was pollution from fracking. The guy who built his house is a good friend. He was over (up from Florida where he has a mansion you wouldn't believe). We were talking about it and he asked why didn't the government stop it? I know that this guy evades taxes as much as possible. His wife is always talking about the people who don't pay taxes. She thinks 15% flat tax is best.

    Guy at work has 3 daughters. The eldest is going to college this fall. He was shocked that he had to pay so much and that there wasn't government subsidies for him, but he's been complaining about high taxes for years. He used to bring me printouts from websites showing that teachers were making $80 or $90,000. I told him the problem wasn't what they were being paid for their education and work. The problem is that he doesn't get paid enough.

    My friend with the lake is always complaining about how much people make. He's hardly scraping by.

    It makes me want to bang my head against the wall.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Next time a Conservative goes on and on about how we don't need government, and that during tough times people ought to help out their family members, friends, and neighbors, ask them the following question;

    "So, what you're telling me, is that not only do I have you save money for MYSELF in case of an emergency, but I need to save extra money to help YOU OUT? Ok then, tell me, how much are you setting aside right now to help me out?"
    And they won't have a nickel set aside for you, because they are greedy hypocrites.
    'They want to have their cake, and eat it too.
    And it tastes even better, if there's none for you.'

    Now, these people may not be TOTAL sociopaths – there are various levels of sociopathy, and the stone-eyed killers in prison are merely their ideal.

    Remind your Libertarian friends that one of Ayn Rands heroes was a serial killer who kidnapped, tortured and mutilated the corpse of a 12 year-old girl:

    And that after typing her idiotic anti-government manifesto's to greed, she grabbed Social Security and Medicare when she needed them:

    It's this complete lack of self-awareness that leads Megan McArdle to write her impecably wrong articles blasting the government, and then later in the day waiting in line for her free government-issued sandbags.

    It's laughable.
    But Conservatives won't get it – they suffer from an irony deficiency.

  • shouldbegradingpapers says:

    I enjoyed the Texas Liberal site; it reminds me of the stoopid I live with in Georgia every day. Of course, the writer makes it crystal clear that he thinks people in Texas need help, but Perry is a hypocrite for demanding help fromt the same federal government that is his usual whipping boy. But the comments are full of "hateful libruls" hate us awesome Texans.

    Like mm pointed out above, the disconnect is absolute. It's a religion to these people, an unshakeable belief totally independent of fact and evidence.

  • Monkey Business says:

    Last weekend I was in a discussion with some friends of mine, and we were discussing a variety of issues. There were four of us, ranging from Libertarian to Conservative to Moderate to Liberal. I was talking to the Libertarian, and we spent some time narrowing down his political beliefs to "I want government to provide for me what I cannot provide for myself, and nothing else.", which in his estimation was pretty much just national defense.

    My feeling is that if you presented this statement to most people, they would agree with it. I mean, it makes sense, right? The government shouldn't provide everything to everybody; it should just provide those things that people cannot provide for themselves. It's American Bootstrap Rugged Individualism (TM).

    The problem is that if you talk to ten different people, you'll get ten different answers to what the government should provide. Maybe it's not just national defense. Maybe it's clean air and water. Maybe it's infrastructure. Maybe it's investment in high tech industries. Maybe it's Social Security and Medicare. Maybe it's unemployment benefits.

    This is the fundamental problem with conservatism. They want the government to provide what THEY want and need, and everyone else can go fuck themselves. Unfortunately, we live in a country with 300 million people, so the government can't provide everything that everyone needs, and at the same time will offer and provide services that a lot of people don't need. Consequently, conservatism becomes an unsolvable contradiction.

    That must be why they're so angry at everything all the time.

  • It's all about privatizing gains and socializing losses. Let's gut NOAA and turn our weather information system over to AccuWeather but when they are shockingly wrong as they always are, let's get Joe and Jane taxpayer to foot the bill.

    Anyway, along the lines of this topic, this item amused me. Yes, it's from The Onion, but how is this not the perfect embodiment of Teanut policy-making?

    To wit:

    Tea Party Congressman Calls For Tax Breaks To Put Out Raging Wildfire In District

    WASHINGTON—With a massive wildfire currently raging out of control in his district, Tea Party Caucus member Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) pressed Congress to pass immediate tax breaks Tuesday to combat the rapidly spreading blaze. "This fire has already burned hundreds of square miles and left thousands of helpless families with only one hope: across-the-board income tax cuts and a sharply lower corporate tax rate," said Franks, stating that broad-based tax relief would spur investment and extinguish the towering flames that grow larger by the minute. "We must act now. The longer the oppressive tax burden on honest, hardworking individuals remains unaddressed, the larger and more deadly this fire will become." According to staffers, Franks plans to honor the nine individuals who have perished in the blaze by introducing additional legislation this week that would eliminate Medicaid.


    I mean yeah it's a joke but really this is exactly what these idiots are pushing in Congress.

  • Reagan. Reagan fucked us. And the thing is, I don't think he really meant to; he just tweaked the message too far because he and his audience were too stupid for the nuanced version. The message of "Government is like any other group of people–it'll get away with as much as it can, so it's important to keep it in fiscal and authoritative check" was neither new nor radical–hell, it's essentially Jeffersonian.

    But Reagan dumbed it down to a bumper-sticker: "Government is not the solution. Government is the problem." Not "bad" government. Not "unnecessary" government. Just "government." All of it. Everything from the city council to the state senate to the hallowed halls of D.C. All of it, according to the message, is bad. When you dumb it down from "Bad government cannot be allowed to stand" (reasonable, even moral) to "Government is inherently toxic," then the masses who need someone to blame for how much their life sucks will latch onto that boogieman with the same unthinking bigotry as they do when they blame The Jews, The Blacks, The Gays, etc.

    America (and it's by no means unique in this regard) is a nation easily united by bigotry. For the right, it's bigotry against government. For the left, it's bigotry against corporatism. And of course there's always going to be plenty of evidence, in institutions as large as "government" and "corporatism" to justify said bigotry–we can all point to instances of governing/corporate waste, venality, and incompetence.

    But bigotry makes the world black and white (pardon the pun.) It means that rather than looking at institutions as collection of people, some good, some bad, most just slogging through their day just like the rest of us, we just regard such institutions as The Enemy, and any good things they might incidentally produce are irretrievably tainted. (Not to skirt Godwin's law, but the Nazis actually produced a number of really nifty and beneficial advances in science and engineering, but don't we automatically look at such things and taste the evil lurking beneath them?)

    So when people actually *need* government, it's not an occasion for reflection, reconsideration, revision. It's an occasion for deeper anger. The Klan member whose house is on fire and whose Jewish neighbor rushes in to the rescue isn't going to be grateful–he's going to hate himself for needing the assistance of a Jew. And he's going to displace that hatred onto, you guessed it, said neighbor, who "must've *known in advance* and that's why he was so ready to help–the bastard."

    This is a problem that's not going to solve itself except by the death of the generation that holds these beliefs. (Natural deaths, please–I'm talking passage of time, not ethnic cleansing.) Racism isn't dead in America, but it's been greatly weakened as the generations for whom it was de rigeur have died off, leaving behind a much vaguer, watered-down version of their hatred–not quite so many lynchings these days. The Reagan generation needs to pass into oblivion–nobody so far threatens to replace the Dear Leader as the universally beloved voice of anti-government bigotry. If we can just get through the next 20 years or so…

    Of course, by that point, our infrastructure will have collapsed, and our economy will be entirely based overseas, and…oh fuck, we're all dead, aren't we?

  • The bad part is that the populace won't think "Jeez, I voted for a hypocrite," they'll think Obama said NO in our hour of need. What do we pay taxes for, anyway?

    The fantasy of utter self-reliance attracts people who feel helpless. They don't want to need help, they want to feel that they are in control. Nostalgia, including false memories from movies featuring Amish barn-raising and wartime scrap metal drives, derails their thinking even more. Anyone remember the Defense Department procurement scandals? That shock numbed us to the monstrosity of Halliburton, just as the initial spike in fuel prices numbed people to the new, higher plateau.

    We would rather ignore these problems than attack the messiness of fixing them, since we don't know how, and learning is hard. There is an off-switch that is flipped whenever we consider cutting defense, doing something that limits profits, or violating the holy notion of capitalism in any way. Most people have short attention spans and poor math skills. Who understands the government budget in detail?

    When there are easy social issues to shout about (requiring no math or complex reasoning,) how many people are going to bother to educate themselves on problems they are only vaguely aware exist? Who wonders how our budget accounts for personnel, overhead, inventory, etc., much less what our plan for long-term stability might be? Living month-to-month creates anxiety and stress that do not help people's judgment. It's much easier (and more soothing) to cut someone else's pet pig than it is to learn about accounting principles and long-term financial planning.

    And it's easier to understand a devout loudmouth than an egghead who just knows a lot about, y'know, law and math and government and stuff.

  • A tip o the hat to eau, Middle Seaman, Southern Beale, J. Dryden for some especially encouraging insights. Reading Michael Shermer's The Believing Brain left me awash in despair.

    I feel much better now, Dave. Really I do.

  • What really chaps my ass is that real Red State, red-meat Americans have to pay taxes that all get spent on those big, lefty, densely populated Communist states.

    Oh. Wait.

    As much as I think he's a sub-W imbecile, Rick Perry has a frightening talent for frame control. Bumper-sticker libertarians already seem to love him. Prediction: From the moment he's sworn in, we won't hear the word "deficit" again for eight years.

  • shouldbegradingpapers says:

    Just a few fun facts about Ronnie Raygun:

    Reagan significantly increased public expenditure, primarily the Department of Defense, which rose (in constant 2000 dollars) from $267.1 billion in 1980 (4.9% of GDP and 22.7% of public expenditure) to $393.1 billion in 1988 (5.8% of GDP and 27.3% of public expenditure)

    As a short-run strategy to reduce inflation and lower nominal interest rates, the U.S. borrowed both domestically and abroad to cover the Federal budget deficits, raising the national debt from $997 billion to $2.85 trillion.

    But facts do not matter. Ronnie was a god…shut up, that's why!

  • @Marinus:

    We all have strength enough to endure the misfortune of others.
    —Francois, duc de la Rochefoucauld

  • Well heck, who needs the government? Couldn't you just shoot the hurricane, flood or wildfire with your legally concealed handgun?

  • @Dryden: I'm still pondering your equivalence of Big Guv'ment on the one hand and Corporatism on the other. I question whether it's quite symmetrical. Government, theoretically anyway, is as big or dysfunctional as the citizenry allow it to be: they have been put in charge and can (theoretically, again) reclaim that responsibility if they can summon the smarts. Corporations have as their aim to make a maximal profit and to work, not for the employees or even the long-term benefit of the corporation itself, but for the shareholders' pockets. One has been allowed to get bloated and corrupt by influence peddling by–corporations!–and the other is a beast that strains at the leash by its very nature, whose proper managers properly urge it in the direction it's built to go in.

    Another related subject: Ed reiterates the hypocrisy of the right, an observation hundreds have made recently. Am I naive to wonder whether Brian Williams, in the next debate, will confront any of the Republican candidates with their own, since all have a socialist skeleton or two or five in the closet? (Never mind Romney, who's running from his as fast as he can) I mean, it's so EASY to do the research: compare and contrast what Candidate A got in handouts with what said Candidate now says about those very programs. And if the question is asked, how skillfully will Candidate A muddy the issue? Will we go to commercial before the follow-up?

  • @anotherbozo – I should clarify: I equate the biases, not whether or not the biases are objectively justifiable. While corporatism does, in general, work exactly as you describe, it need not do so–that is, like government, it's an institution that can be run well, but usually isn't. A corporation could (and of course should) theoretically be run with the intention to maximize profits within the moral and fiscal parameters of best serving employees, customers, and shareholders. Unfortunately, most corporations only focus on the shareholders–and even then, the gnomes in the glass tower will screw them over for short-term gains. Union-led industry has done some amazing things, because it focused on the product as the best means of achieving profit and sustainability. Now it's all about the money. But it doesn't have to be. But since that's been the model for so long, it's easy for us to forget that last part. Similarly (but not identically), I think conservatives have been trained to see government as something that, since it has been represented to them as something that exists solely to ruin lives, is intrinsically bad, rather than an instrument that, done well, can achieve good and great things.

    Our assumption is that corporations are always Trojan Horses–whatever benefit we derive from them comes at a secret and greater cost. So it is with conservatives and government. You're quite right that the way to 'cure' these two problems is widely diverse. But not, I'd argue, the instinctive, unreflecting hostility to the mere appearance of the term in public discourse.

    But yeah, there's an obvious and important difference in that the minions of a democratic government answer to the people, while those of a corporation answer to a much smaller group of shareholders and executives. One venue breeds corruption, secrecy and mean-spiritedness much more than the other. So, no, not the same at all in that respect. Still, I think there's as much tendency among coffee-shop liberals to go "pfft" and roll their eyes at the mere mention of any corporation as there is among hunting-lodge conservatives to do the same in reaction to the government. And while one group may be more sympathetic to us (it is to me), unreflective bias is still a bad thing. *Reflective* bias, on the other, is just fun!

  • I have some friends of the 'rock ribbed' Republican persuasion– hard working people who are cultural conservatives.

    They had child with severe birth defects and developmental challenges. They turned to the government who gave them Medicaid, special equipment, transportation allowances for a van, special needs classes with a special hydraulicly equipped bus to transport the child, and extra personnel for home care.

    They have responded to this by vocally backing tea party initiatives and deficit hawking.

    I have no idea how they handle the cognitive dissonance, I'm just glad the child is cared for.

  • Years ago, when I was still working at the VA Hospital, a disabled veteran was in my office about getting some expensive piece of medical equipment. He knew roughly how much it was going to cost, and made a half-apologetic remark about it I looked at him and said, 'sir, when we were putting you in uniform and sending you in harm's way, nobody seemed to mind how much THAT was going to cost. As far as I'm concerned, you've already paid for this.'

    It was touching how much that meant to him. Experiences like that helped me last twenty four years in harness. If it hadn't been for AIDS, I'd still be there today.

  • "The reason I have so little respect for Small Government, drown-it-in-the-bathtub arguments, and often the people who spout them, is that when the proverbial excrement hits the fan, every person in this country howls for the gub'mint to save him like a baby that needs its bottle."

    So you don't have respect for advocates of small gov't because you think they are hypocrites. Fair enough. That's different from disagreeing with the philosophy.

  • @ Dick Nixon: Tell your friends that Tea Party pols are backing ALEC-drafted legislation that is going to decimate all benefits for special ed kids.

    @ Ed, Monkey Business, et al: My favorite question to Tea Partiers is that, if they are so afraid of Big Gubmint interfering with their freedom, then they must be all for reduction of the National Security budget, right? I mean, it's slowly morphing into a National Oppression operation, and I fully expect to see drones flying overhead in the next few years. What good with their guns do then?

  • @jult52:
    I dislike the philosophy because EVERYONE who espouses it is a hypocrite of some sort, or at least a pampered, head-up-the-ass sophomore. Because libertarianism is, in its essence, an unworkable sham.

    The sex and drugs stuff is great, though!

  • "And it's easier to understand a devout loudmouth than an egghead who just knows a lot about, y'know, law and math and government and stuff."

    Americans like their politics like they like their cheese. Processed, sliced, sealed and utterly mediocre.

  • The disgusting thing about the Texas wildfires is that while the Feds picked up most of the tab for fighting the fires, Governor Good Hair was bitching about how the Feds weren't doing anything!!!

  • acer: "Because libertarianism is, in its essence, an unworkable sham."

    The problem is that activist government, too, looks like an unworkable sham. I recently read an interesting book about the 1912 election, the one where Woodrow Wilson won in a three-way contest, and the ideological controversy it deascribes was eerily-reminiscent because it was very similar to the one we have been experiencing in our lifetimes. Very little difference between the two eras. But now we're at the point where all the competing ideologies are discredited. I think a term from Adorno is perfectly suited for this situation: Aporia.

  • Going back to the threadstarter: "The reason I have so little respect for Small Government, drown-it-in-the-bathtub arguments, and often the people who spout them, is that when the proverbial excrement hits the fan, every person in this country howls for the gub'mint to save him like a baby that needs its bottle."

    Or maybe:

    "The reason I have so little respect for Big Government, raise those taxes arguments, and often the people who spout them, is that these same people aren't personally writing additional checks to the IRS to take them up to the tax rate they believe is best."

    Hypocrisy on all sides.

  • @Dick Nixon I'm sure your friends would respond with, "It was MY taxes that paid for my kid's equipment and care!" As if there was some kind of one-to-one balance between their taxes and their benefits. In their minds, they didn't take gub'mint handouts. They just got back what they paid into the system.

    No, no, none of the other 300 million people in this country helped. At all.

  • I'm not sure what "false equivalence" means. If you think the state has no business providing certain benefits, you are a hypocrite for accepting those benefits, according to the threadstarter. If you think that the state should have a much bigger claim on US resources than it presently does, then you are a hypocrite for not voluntarily donating some of your extra resources to the state, according to the same logic. Sorry if it makes you uncomfortable.

    If you think the "rich" (I'd prefer a more quantitative term there) should pay more taxes but you in fact aren't rich, ok, but there's nothing particularly moral about the position. (Hey, I want a pony for free, too!) The money is just going to senior citizens for pensions and health care and a bloated defense budget, anyway. Don't pretend the money will go anywhere else.

  • You know, although I have a very different set of political positions than most here, I generally find this blog really interesting – except when it turns to vague political topics. At that point, the normally intelligent host and many of the posters seem to lose 50 points of IQ and start blithering.

    How about a more concrete focus on political & policy specifics when the topic arises, and a healthier sense of skepticism about one's own beliefs? That would certainly make for a more interesting political discussion than the "Republicans are dumm" routine.

  • @jult52 I have a very healthy sense of skepticism about most things, including my own beliefs. Thing is, I've been proven right about most of my beliefs (the Iraq war was a mistake, there were no WMDs, Obama is not a liberal, DOMA and DADT are bad policies, etc.).

    Feel free to start your own blog somewhere that suits your tastes better. I like this place just fine the way it is.

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