On Tuesday, the Republican governor of South Carolina issued a statewide stay-at-home order. The remaining eight states without one are all governed by Republicans. It may be tempting to argue they’re downplaying the coronavirus threat like President Donald Trump did. But it’s unfair to draw that conclusion based solely on them being a member of the president’s party.
Trump, of course, claims he’s always taken the threat seriously. But that’s only true in his universe of alternative facts.
Governors should be independent and intelligent enough not to follow the party’s pied piper just because he occupies the White House.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy didn’t.
He’s one of six Republican governors who declared a state of emergency before Trump declared a national one. He also issued a statewide stay-at-home order before six Democratic governors.
According to a reporter from Forbes magazine, the governors who haven’t taken that step yet “have often defended their actions out of a belief in smaller government.” A lot of Republican officials and voters agree with that philosophy. The problem is it’s been spun into opposing stereotypes — all Democrats want more government and all Republicans want to dismantle it.
The first of those grew out of a bumper sticker expression that’s still being sold. “Government is NOT The Solution–Government is The Problem.” President Ronald Reagan is responsible for that easily recognizable slogan. But not for it being misused.
Reagan prefaced the memorable line in his 1981 inaugural speech with “In this present crisis.” He was referring to an economic recession during which inflation and unemployment reached their highest levels in four decades. And interest rates were at an all-time high.
His desire to “check and reverse” the growth of government was to make it “work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back.” He wanted a government that would “provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it.”
Reagan’s larger agenda included a huge tax cut, balancing the federal budget and shifting power from the federal government to the states. But try putting all that on a bumper sticker.
The problem with the abbreviated version of “government is the problem” is it’s a small idea that seeks to end public discourse before it begins. And smaller yet when it’s boxed by itself into campaign rhetoric.
But that hasn’t stopped some elected Republicans from advertising it could be put it into practice. Shrinking the size of government was a major feature of Newt Gingrich’s 1994 contract for America, a central theme for Tea Party candidates in 2010, and behind the government shutdown over raising the federal deficit ceiling in 2013.
Each iteration gave rise to some overly simple rebuttals. Bill Maher used the most common one on his HBO program this week to explain why “America has been slow and inefficient in responding” to the coronavirus crisis.
“The root problem is … Republicans are better at politics, and so they get elected. But once in office, they can’t do anything. Because their idea of government is dismantling government.”
His solution is to stop the “virtue signaling” of bipartisanship because Americans “can only be safer when every last” Republican is voted out of office.
Maher built up to that conclusion with how President George W. Bush missed numerous warnings that al-Qaida was planning to attack America in 2001. But that mistake, and his disastrous invasion of Iraq, had nothing to with dismantling government.
In fact, after reading “The Great Influenza” by John M. Barry, Bush believed the answer to the next pandemic should begin with the government. He initiated the first federal program to prepare the country. It called for stockpiling respirators, masks and protective equipment.
Arguing all Republicans are incapable of governing is no different than saying all Democrats are socialists.
Instead of serious public debate, people turn to friends, one-sided cable news commentary and social media bubbles to affirm their under-informed opinions.
Consider how stereotyping Democrats worked out for some of the loudest conservatives in the country. They’ve compromised their cherished ideals regarding free trade, the national debt, personal accountability and character for an uncompromising loyalty to a president with no principled convictions. They may think they “own the libs,” but Trump owns them.
The means can never justify such an inglorious end.