Thursday, December 23, 2010

Why Conservatives Hate Government

Historian Rick Perlstein has written an interesting article entitled Enemies of State, in which he explains how "historically, nothing has terrified conservatives so much as efficient, effective, activist government."  As he puts it, Republicans have long understood that "governing well in the interests of the broad majority brings compounding political benefits for the party of government."  "The mortal fear" for Republicans, Perlstein says "is that if government delivers the goods, the Republicans have no future."

This fear turns into hysteria, which we certainly have seen in the portrayal of Obama's mild efforts at regulation and reform as socialist or worse.  Perlstein demonstrates that such propaganda by the right has been pervasive since at at least the1930s.  While originally these "education" efforts were less effective because the organizations behind them were seen for what they were,"extremist and plutocratic," there has been increasing sophistication over time "by which anti-government sentiment severed itself from that taint."  Thus, "the ideology of industrial barons comes no longer to look like the ideology of industrial barons; it becomes popular folk wisdom instead. One word for this development is: 'Reaganism.'” 

More recently, according to Perlstein, "it took the rise of the religious right to devise ways to transmogrify government into an active and existential evil in and of itself. In turn, however, an increasingly sophisticated Washington D.C.-based conservative movement has turned moralistic piety to serve the larger pro-business conservative cause."  What we are left with is that "in the minds of larger and larger segments of the public, government becomes an actively destructive force: always the problem, never a solution."


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