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Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Effective Government Then and Now

Cartoon from 1938 showing the conservative take on the TVA

As George Lakoff notes, two core values of progressives are broader prosperity and more effective government. Effective government doesn't necessarily mean a larger government, or a smaller goverment, but rather a government responsive to the will of the people with a system of checks and balances to insure efficiency, self-defense, and opportunity.

On the other end of the politcal spectrum, Conservatives believe in lower taxes and smaller government. A helpful analogy comes from neocon guru Grover Nordquist, who expressed his conviction that the government should be shrunk down to a size where it can be drowned in a bathtub. The apex of this philosophy can be found at the Ayn Rand institute, which recently argued that the U.S. governement shouldn't contribute to Tsunami relief.

What conservatives overlook is that the government is comprised of citizens, and if and when the citizens are truly engaged, the government becomes responsive to their needs. The conservative rhetoric of "it's not the government's money it's your money" separates the government and the people, creating two distinct entities where before there was one; it's like the wisdom of King Solomon: slice the baby in half and give half to each. At its very core, the neocon philosophy betrays the basic principles of a citizen-democracy. We are the government.

In addition, conservatives tend to ignore successful government programs such as the interstate highway system, the Hoover Dam, Head Start, The National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Health, the Center for Disease Control, etc...

Right now, The Tennessee Valley Authority provides power for an 80,000 square mile area in Tenessee, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, and Virginia. Of course, conservatives and big business opposed the project at the time, and continue to oppose a broad swath of government programs designed to broaden prosperity and extend opportunity today.

The strongest opposition to TVA came from power companies, who resented the cheaper energy available through TVA and saw it as a threat to private development. They charged that the federal government's involvement in the power business was unconstitutional. The fight against TVA was led by Wendell Willkie, president of the Commonwealth and Southern Company, a large power utility company.

Isn't the TVA an example of the sort of big government largesse that conservatives despise? Shouldn't our red state compatriots boycott the use of electric power in protest?

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