Feb 28th 2013

The Mission of Government

by Mike Lux

Michael Lux is the co-founder and CEO of Progressive Strategies, L.L.C., a political consulting firm founded in 1999, focused on strategic political consulting for non-profits, labor unions, PACs and progressive donors. He is also a partner at Democracy Partners, a progressive consulting firm. Previously, he was Senior Vice President for Political Action at People For the American Way (PFAW), and the PFAW Foundation, and served at the White House from January 1993 to mid-1995 as a Special Assistant to the President for Public Liaison. While at Progressive Strategies, Lux has founded, and currently chairs a number of new organizations and projects, including American Family Voices, the Progressive Donor Network, and BushRecall.org. Lux serves on the boards of several other organizations including the Arca Foundation, Americans United for Change, Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, Center for Progressive Leadership, Democratic Strategist, Grassroots Democrats, Progressive Majority and Women’s Voices/Women Vote.In November of 2008, Mike was named to the Obama-Biden Transition Team. In that role, he served as an advisor to the Public Liaison on dealings with the progressive community and has helped shape the office of Public Liaison based on his past experience working on the Clinton-Gore Transition, as well as in the White House. On January 14, 2009, Lux released his first book, The Progressive Revolution: How the Best in America Came to Be. Lux's book was published by Wiley Publishing. You can purchase The Progressive Revolution by clicking here.

Right wing forces in this country are obsessed with the size of government, but the fundamental debate we should be having is not the size of government but what the goal of government should be: what should government’s central mission be?

There are 4 major views on this question in modern American politics, 2 in each political party.

The first Republican view is very simply boiled down to the central organizing principle that government should be as small as possible. That’s it. Size (the small variety) not only matters, but is the only thing that matters. Any mission or goal that government has is over-ridden and overwhelmed by the urgent desire to make it smaller. Whether cuts in the size of government are rationally planned doesn’t matter, as their rhetoric on the sequester makes clear. Whether cuts in the size of government hurt people or hurt the economy as a whole doesn’t matter either, not a whit. I have heard heart-breaking stories, for example, of parents with disabled kids lobbying against the cuts that will devastate the programs that help their children, with Republican Congressmen telling them it doesn’t matter, we just have to cut the size of government. Grover Norquist famously said that he wants to make government so small that he can drown it in a bathtub, and his Tea Party comrades are clearly trying to do exactly that at the cost of everything else.

While all Republicans talk about wanting to make government smaller, the other Republican view on what the mission of government should be is less focused on size, and more focused on this central thing: serving the needs of big business. This idea was most famously (or infamously) articulated by the former Republican chair of the House Committee on Financial Services in 2011 when he said “In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.”  However this philosophy has long been the establishment Republicans’ central organizing principle when it comes to what government should be doing. George Bush and Karl Rove, for example, were happy to add a drug benefit to Medicare as long as it was structured around maximizing big drug companies’ profits. And for decades now, all the Republican talk about local control tends to magically disappear when big business comes to lobby for the feds pre-empting pesky state and local regulations. The fact is that the size of government exploded under Bush’s watch because drug companies and Wall Street and other industries wanted sweetheart deals, subsidies of all kinds, and bailouts, and Rove and Bush never blinked when those industries came asking for government largesse.

The first of the modern Democratic Party theories about the mission of government is the most complicated of the 4. This theory says the mission of government should be that it should make some investments in our people and the economy, that there should be a safety net for the poor, but that (most importantly) government should work to steady and stabilize the status quo. I became intimately familiar with this philosophy in the Clinton White House by working with Bob Rubin and his acolytes. Bob, to his credit, believed very much in putting money into programs for the poor, even opposing the welfare reform Bill Clinton ended up signing; he was always for making investments in schools and infrastructure and R&D; but his central focus was on preserving the status quo, or even strengthening the position of, the business community. He was consistently opposed to doing anything that would upset major businesses too much, and if big banks made bad loans or investments or speculative bets in foreign currencies, he was always for bailing them out. This generation’s Rubin has been one of his protégés, Tim Geithner, who was passionately focused on one big thing throughout the financial crisis and the years since: preservation of the financial status quo. When given a choice of restructuring or simply reviving the financial system, Geithner in each and every instance chose simply reviving it.

The final philosophy about the central mission is that of the progressive populists, who argue that government’s central mission should be strengthening and expanding America’s broad middle class. There is clearly some overlap between this mission and the other Democratic philosophy, as both of them argue for helping the poor and making investments in education, infrastructure, and other things that help create middle class jobs in the long term. But progressive populists believe that government should be pushing for higher wages and better benefits, and for workers to have the ability to unionize and have more rights at work. Just as importantly, progressive populists believe that big businesses who impact negatively on the middle class by concentrating industry power, manipulating markets, crushing their smaller competitors, damaging our environment, and driving down wages and benefits should be strongly regulated and stopped from harming the poor and middle class. If that means being disruptive of and challenging to the establishment status quo, as it frequently does, progressive populists are happy to be disruptive.

Many Democrats, including President Obama and my old boss Bill Clinton, have always had one foot in one camp and one in the other of these 2 Democratic philosophies. The rhetoric, especially lately, has moved more toward the latter philosophy, but the policy specifics and appointments have too often stayed with the former. But you can tell the energy is rising in the Democratic Party in the latter camp, as demonstrated by the strong following Elizabeth Warren has built when she hammers away on the establishment. Here’s a clip of her pushing Fed Chief Bernanke on the Too Big To Fail question:


And in a widely viewed clip of her very first hearing as a member of the Banking Committee, she got tough on Obama administration appointees for settling for status quo (and not very effective) banking regulation:



When politicians like Warren take on the establishment in order to fight for the middle class, Democratic activists get very stirred up, and the rest of the party needs to take note.

Neither Republican philosophy about the mission of government will ever become a majority in American politics- the Republicans have to pretend those aren’t their views to have a chance at getting elected. But for both policy and political reasons, the Democrats need to firmly pick the side of middle class and low income Americans, and not worry so much about preserving and protecting the establishment.   

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May 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "No, I am not arguing that Powell needs to replicate Volcker’s tightening campaign. But if the Fed wishes to avoid a replay of the stagflation of the late 1970s and early 1980s, it needs to recognize the extraordinary gulf between Volcker’s 4.4% real interest rate and Powell’s -2.25%. It is delusional to believe that such a wildly accommodative policy trajectory can solve America’s worst inflation problem in a generation."
May 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "It will be critical in this context how China will act and whether it will prioritise its economic interests (continuing trade with Europe and the US) or current ideological preferences (an alliance with Russia that makes the world safe for autocracies)."
May 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "The document is full of embarrassing and damming stories of illegal gatherings and bad behaviour. There was “excessive alcohol consumption”, a regular fixture referred to as “wine time Fridays” and altercations between staff. Aides are shown to have left Downing Street after 4am (and not because they had worked into these early hours). Cleaning staff and junior aides were abused, and a Number 10 adviser is on record before the infamous “bring your own booze” party...."
May 17th 2022
EXTRACT: "But even a resounding Russian defeat is an ominous scenario. Yes, under such circumstances – and only such circumstances – Putin might be toppled in some kind of coup led by elements of Russia’s security apparatus. But the chances that this would produce a liberal democratic Russia that abandons Putin’s grand strategic designs are slim. More likely, Russia would be a rogue nuclear superpower ruled by military coup-makers with revanchist impulses. Germany after World War I comes to mind."
May 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "For citizens of states that are members of NATO, taking all possible steps, short of all-out war, to ensure that Russia does not conquer Ukraine is not even an altruistic sacrifice. It is a long-term investment, for themselves and their children, in freedom, democracy, and the international rule of law."
May 4th 2022
EXTRACT: ".....a remarkable transformation is taking place in Ukraine’s army amounting to its de facto military integration into Nato. As western equipment filters through to the frontline, Nato-standard weaponry and ammunition will be brought into Ukrainian service. This is of far higher quality than the mainly former Soviet weapons with which the Ukrainians have fought so capably. The longer this process continues and deepens, the worse the situation will be for the already inefficient Russian army and air force."
May 3rd 2022
EXTRACT: " The conventional wisdom among students of the Russian arts and sciences is that Russian culture is “great.” The problem is that, while there are surely great individuals within Russian culture, the culture as a whole cannot avoid responsibility for Putin and his regime’s crimes." ---- "Russianists will not be able to avoid examining themselves and their Russian cultural icons for harbingers of the present catastrophe. What does it mean that Fyodor Dostoevsky was a Russian chauvinist? That Nikolai Gogol and Anton Chekhov were Ukrainian? That Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was an unvarnished imperialist? That Aleksandr Pushkin was a troubadour of Russian imperial greatness? May these writers still be read without one eye on the ongoing atrocities in Ukraine?"
Apr 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "The following day Lavrov met his Eritrean counterpart, Osman Saleh, in Moscow. Eritrea was the only African country to vote against the UN resolution condemning the invasion. In this refusal to condemn Russia, Eritrea was joined by only Belarus, North Korea and Syria. Even longstanding allies such as Cuba and China abstained. It’s an indication of Russia’s increasingly limited diplomatic options as this war continues."
Apr 24th 2022
EXTRACT: "Although the milestone lasted only for a brief time, it points to a future in which California runs on 100% wind, solar, hydro and batteries, a future that will certainly arrive even faster than the state plans. As it is, California is ahead of its green energy goals." ...... "A world of 100% green energy and electric cars is not only a healthier and more comfortable world, it is a world where oil and gas dictators like Vladimir Putin are defunded."
Apr 17th 2022
EXTRACT: "Kazakhstan’s authorities have also showed uncharacteristic leniency in allowing public rallies in support of Ukraine. Thousands of protesters holding banners reading “Russians, leave Ukraine”, “Long Live Ukraine” and “Bring Putin to trial” marched across the capital, Almaty, wrapping monuments to Lenin and other Soviet-era figures with yellow and blue balloons symbolising the Ukrainian flag."
Apr 15th 2022
EXTRACT: "People’s identification with the Soviet Union appears to have a clear and growing basis in Russian public opinion. Surveys we have conducted throughout the Putin period show that Soviet identification among the general population – something that had been steadily declining after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 – began to increase in 2014, when the Russian government annexed Crimea and supported rebellions in the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. By 2021, almost 50% of those surveyed identified with the Soviet Union rather than the Russian Federation."
Apr 13th 2022
EXTRACT: "Worse yet, the Hungarian government has effectively been helping Putin by prohibiting the shipment of weapons to Ukraine across its borders. Hungarian public TV spreads Russian disinformation day and night. The day before the election, an assembly of ordinary people expressing solidarity with Ukraine was framed on state television as a “pro-war rally.” "
Apr 13th 2022
EXTRACT: "It may well be that the Russian army’s fate has already been sealed in what is likely to be a long war. The single qualification to this may be that Russia could default to escalation using “weapons of mass destruction” of one form or another – whether tactical nuclear warheads or chemical weapons."
Apr 13th 2022
EXTRACTS" "Ukraine and Russia produce a substantial amount of grain and other food for export. Ukraine alone produces a whopping 6% of all food calories traded in the international market. At least it used to, before it was invaded by the world’s largest nuclear power." ...... "When it comes to cereals like wheat, corn, rice and barley, the big players talk about millions of metric tonnes, or MMTs. A single MMT of wheat contains about 3.4 trillion food calories,." ....."Ukraine produced about 80 MMT of grain (a category that includes wheat, corn and barley) in 2021, and is expected to harvest less than half of that this year. A shortfall of 40 MMT is enough missing calories that a country like the UK could only make it up by having everyone stop eating for three years. That’s the thing about tonnes of grain: a million here and a million there and pretty soon you’ve got a real issue on your plate."
Apr 11th 2022
EXTRACT: "I don’t even know the little girl’s name. All I do know is what a friend of a friend wrote on Viber: that her relative, a senior nurse in one of Kyiv’s hospitals, “saw in the morgue a child with 20 varieties of sperm on her small body.” Since this information was conveyed in a private conversation, there is no reason to doubt its veracity."
Apr 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russian society has so far failed to stop Putin, just as German society failed to stop Hitler. And so, like a poisoned chalice, that task has fallen to the West, as it did in 1939. The West must now treat Putin and his regime the same way that Winston Churchill treated Hitler: Don’t talk to him, just defeat him. Dead-enders such as Putin are too fanatical and desperate to be reliable negotiating partners."
Apr 3rd 2022
EXTRACT: "From 1807 to 1814 on the Iberian peninsula, Napoleon had to fight Spanish, Portuguese and British armies while beset by ubiquitous, ferocious insurgents. He described this war as his “bleeding ulcer”, draining him of men and equipment. It is the west’s aim to make Ukraine for Putin what Spain was for Napoleon. In the absence of a negotiated settlement, Ukraine and Nato will continue to grind away at Russia’s army, digging away at that bleeding ulcer and prolonging Russia’s agony on the military front, as the west continues its parallel assault on its economy. If Putin’s plan is to proceed with the Korea model, he will fail. There is a strong possibility that Putin has only a limited idea of how badly his army is faring. So be it – he’ll find out soon enough that there is now no path for him to military victory."
Apr 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "Policymakers expected that the country would be able to secure its energy supply entirely from renewable sources, so they resolved to phase out coal and nuclear energy simultaneously. The last three of Germany’s 17 nuclear power plants are set to be shut down this year." ---- ".... the share of wind and solar power in Germany’s total final energy consumption, which includes heating, industrial processing, and traffic, was a meager 6.7%. And while wind and solar generated 29% of the country’s electricity output, electricity itself accounted for only about a fifth of its final energy consumption." ----- "If Germany suddenly halted Russian gas imports, gas-based residential heating systems – on which half the German population, approximately 40 million people, rely – and industrial processes that rely heavily on gas imports would break down....."
Apr 1st 2022
EXTRACT: "For Putin, the past that matters most is the one the dissident author and Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn exalted: the time when the Slavic peoples were united within the Orthodox Christian kingdom of Kievan Rus’. Kyiv formed its heart, making Ukraine central to Putin’s pan-Slavic vision. ---- But, for Putin, the Ukraine war is about preserving Russia, not just expanding it. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently made clear, Russia’s leaders believe that their country is locked in a “life-and-death battle to exist on the world’s geopolitical map.” That worldview reflects Putin’s longstanding obsession with works of other Russian emigrant philosophers, such as Ivan Ilyin and Nikolai Berdyaev, who described a struggle for the Eurasian (Russian) soul against the Atlanticists (the West) who would destroy it. ---- Yet Putin and his neo-Eurasianists seem to believe that the key to victory is to create the kind of regime those anti-Bolshevik philosophers most detested: one run by the security forces. A police state would fulfill the vision of another of Putin’s heroes: the KGB chief turned Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov."