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Conservatives Love Big Government (For White People)
They Only Want Limited Government For "Them"
A Democrat is in the White House and getting popular things done, so once again conservatives are back to pretending that they are very concerned about government spending. This is one of the most reliable things in American politics, so predictable that you could set a watch to it.
Right now, Republicans are making loud noises about their purported concerns, insisting that under Biden and Democratic control of Congress, “waste” went overboard. This is an absurd argument for a lot of reasons, but the funniest bit is how the right suddenly turns to their inside voices when they’re asked what they would actually like to “cut.” Of course they don’t want to take down Social Security and Medicare, they say, even though the two programs are the closest the U.S. government has ever come to the “socialism” they love to scaremonger about (ask Ronald Reagan about his war on Medicare!).
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Instead they’ll make noises about belt tightening and purportedly expensive scientific research (ask them the one about the shrimp on the treadmill), but when push comes to shove they’re absolutely not interested in cutting our ridiculous defense spending, where one can spend over a trillion dollars on a plane that doesn’t work.
The funny thing about the right’s convenient embrace of fiscal conservatism is that it is one of the few policy areas that Donald Trump (sort of) gets right: Nobody truly wants it.
Trump, in his never-ending quest for applause lines from conservative voters, understands that America has over the years built a system where government spending is key. The American people really don’t buy into the libertarian ideal of a post-Revolutionary War government that doesn’t have its fingers in everything. Despite the crappy movie and sequels to those movies she inspired, the country wants nothing to with Ayn Rand and “Atlas Shrugged.” (Paul Ryan wept).
Trump understood, however, that the real trick is to promise and deliver on big government with a huge caveat: Big government for white people.
When Trump decided to start his trade war with Asia, completely out of nowhere, it put a strain on American farmers. His misguided notion made it difficult to sell their products on the international market after China erected obstacles in response to Trump. So the government stepped in and started cutting checks to those who had been affected. Gigantic, huge checks for hundreds of billions of dollars. But conservatives were fine with it — in large part because those who were disporportionately benefitting were white farmers.
Contrast this to the hue and cry from the right when Biden took office and inserted provisions in legislation designed to address historical discrimination against Black farmers. Led by former top Trump aide Stephen Miller, a racist, the right has sued to hold up these payments. Suddenly, the right has a big problem with the government cutting checks to farmers. Because they weren’t the “right” kind.
The right has long played this game. Think about Ronald Reagan and his infamously fabricated tall tales about “welfare queens” living high off the hog on the government dime, which was frequently invoked as the right took aim at government programs (like combatting hunger) that they saw as too beneficial to Blacks and Latinos.
Meanwhile these same Republicans had no problem with making the government spend more to cover prescriptions, as they did under George W. Bush, because that was money going to right people in their minds. White people.
This bigotry of course hit a high water mark for the right during President Barack Obama’s presidency, where the conservative invocation of “small government” hit a fevered pitch. The Tea Party rose up and since it is no longer polite to say “they’re giving our money to n*****s,” the Tea Party invoked “spending.” Because spending under a Black president, in the conservative mind, is money going to the bad people — Black people.
When Obamacare was under consideration, by sheer virtue of American demographics, the majority of beneficiaries from the proposed law are white. But this didn’t stop conservative pundits like Glenn Beck from insisting that the health care law was “reparations.” The most influential conservative voice of the 20th century, Rush Limbaugh (who is now very dead), called the legislation a “civil rights bill.” Government money was going towards the wrong people, not white people!
We see this playing out again under Biden, where Republicans attack provisions of the infrastructure bill addressing past racial inequities, but these same Republicans who voted against the bill are more than happy to praise government spending in their own districts and states. Because this gives this an opportunity to highlight how they are helping government to spend money on the “right” people. White people.
There isn’t much of a real fight anymore within the Republican Party over real fiscal conservatism. The spenders won. They have always won, it’s just that yet again Trump has no filter and unlike his predecessors he understood there’s really no political upside to pretending to be a small government conservative. The real-world universe of people who are legitimately for small government could fit inside a (very small) bathtub.
This is a big reason why Democrats should get out of their self-destructive pattern of talking about the deficit and the debt and other things voters don’t care about. Conservatives are big spenders who care more about depriving non-white Americans of benefits while throwing money at white people. This should be something they are called out on, instead of reinforcing destructive right-wing rhetoric about budgeting, belt tightening and running the government like a business.
The government should spend what it needs to spend to make the country livable for its people. All of its people, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. The liberal case for big government is extremely popular and has proven to be a net positive for America over and over again, while also a demonstrably strong way to address current and past discrimination against large groups of people.
A party and political movement that is ultimately about big government for just white people and against it helping anyone else is on the wrong side of history. That is the case that should be made.
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