Oct 20th 2009

Time for Progressives to Stand Up Proudly for Government

by Robert Creamer

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist and author of the recent book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," available on amazon.com.
From the beginning of the "Reagan Revolution" in 1980 until the election of Barack Obama, Progressives were in a defensive crouch. The ideas and values of the right wing were predominant. During the Clinton years, at least there were two ideological teams on the field, but even then Progressives fought on the defense - especially when it came to the role of government. Remember it was Bill Clinton who felt compelled to open a State of the Union with the words: "The era of Big Government is over."

Today's health care debate epitomizes the sharp difference between the progressive understanding of the role of government, and the right wing views underlying of the failed policies that culminated in the Bush years.This year Progressives, lead by President Obama, have stopped apologizing for our view the proper role of government, and begun to assert that Reagan was fundamentally wrong when he said government was the problem. Instead, as Congressman Barney Frank says, government is the name we give to the things we choose to do together.

The right wing argues that government can never do things as well as the "private sector."
Government is not always the solution, any more than it is always the problem. But in many cases, Progressives know that it is more efficient, more effective and more consistent with the values of a democratic society for all of us to do something together - through our government.
Progressive leaders need to finish getting out of that defensive crouch, stand up straight, and assert our view of government forcefully and without apology. After all, we have the high political ground. For example, today's Washington Post-ABC poll shows continued strong public support for a public health insurance option (57% support, 40% oppose). The public option has consistently shown to be the most popular element of health reform.The same poll shows that 55% of voters feel that the health care plan would create either the right amount (34%) or not enough (21%) "government involvement in the nation's health-care system". The charge that health care reform will result in a "government take-over" of health care has failed to resonate.
In fact one of the major concerns voters raise about health care reform is the fear - especially among seniors - that it would weaken the very popular government-run Medicare system.

It's actually pretty remarkable that one of the most potent criticisms Republicans have raised about health care reform is this completely incorrect charge that it would weaken the government run Medicare program that the Right opposed as socialized medicine for years.

Progressives know that Government action is necessary to assure the public health, provide public education, and maintain the public infrastructure for our common life - from streets, parks, and airports, to mass transportation. Government is the expression of our common life - our life as a community; and in democratic societies, it is much more accountable to average citizens than any other major decision-making structure, including large corporations.

Most Americans agree with us that government - not the "private sector," is best equipped to provide public security, fire protection, public education, highways, public transportation and a common defense against enemies. Most also agree that we are much better off providing everyone with Social Security and health insurance for retirement through Medicare. And most agree that government has the obligation to make sure that all Americans have health insurance.
After 9/11, when it was obvious that America needed to massively strengthen its airport security, there was uniform agreement that security screeners should become officers of the government rather than the private security contractors who had done the screening before the 9/11 attacks. The choice seemed obvious. Where you want serious attention to security and public accountability everyone agreed that the screening personnel should be officers of our government.

In fact, the demonization of government -- and the Right's success over the last three decades at diverting resources from the public sector into the hands of Wall Street and multi-national corporations -- have lead directly to our most intractable problems. It has shortchanged our investment in the education of our next generation, created a health care system that costs twice as much per person as any other on earth but leaves us 37th in health care outcomes. It has starved our investment in infrastructure and energy efficiency.

The anti-government forces prevented serious regulation of Wall Street that lead directly to the frenzy of reckless risk-taking that precipitated the current economic collapse, and cost millions their jobs.By starving the public sector they contributed directly to the concentration of income in the top 1 percent of the population, and outsized growth of Wall Street and the rest of the financial sector.Right wing activist Grover Norquist, the leader of the Republican efforts to slash taxes for the wealthy, expressed their view in its purest form when he said he believes that government needs to be "shrunk to the size that it can be drowned in the bathtub." In his view, government is the enemy of moral purpose, which resides solely in the ability of individuals to pursue their own individual self-interest. In a utopian right wing world, there are very few things that we should choose to do together.

From the progressive point of view, government is critically necessary because it uses the common wealth for the common good - to make individual freedom possible - and to allow each individual to realize his or her own individual goals and aspirations. In the progressive view, as George Lakoff says, "the common wealth builds the infrastructure for freedom."The progressive view of the role of government is not a radical new departure. It dominated American domestic politics from 1932 until the mid 1970's. That dominant view translated directly into policies that created a huge leap in economic growth. Real income grew among every sector of the American population and the level of income inequality shrank precipitously.

The right wing counter-revolution against government never spread to most other developed countries in the world. The progressive view of the role of government is widely shared throughout Europe and Asia not just by the center-left - but by many who would describe themselves as center-right.

Today the right wing view that "government is the problem" is shared by a shrinking minority of the American population, and it is embodied in the ideology of a rapidly declining Republican Party that is out of touch with the needs and beliefs of ordinary Americans - not to speak of the views of people in the rest of the world. Only 20% of Americans now self identify as Republicans according to today's Washington Post-ABC Poll - the lowest in a quarter century.

But the most important thing for us to remember is that the anti-government ideology is not simply a set of ideas that emerged whole cloth from scholars at the CATO Institute or the mind of Rush Limbaugh. It is not simply an alternative view of what's good for the "public interest." It is the creation of those who use it to justify their own private gain.It is used to justify the empirically unsupportable notion that private insurance companies are better at providing health insurance than publicly organized insurance programs like Medicare, or the public health insurance programs that provide better health care outcomes in other industrial countries at much lower prices. Would anyone seriously argue that we should leave fire protection to the private sector We all agree that it is both more efficient and more humane to make fire protection the responsibility of government. The same goes for health insurance - a fact that has been recognized throughout the rest of the world.

Of course, health insurance companies don't embrace anti-government rhetoric because of some deep-seated ideological commitment. They do it so they can continue to make huge profits and pay multi-million dollar executive salaries.Wall Street bankers don't battle "governmental intrusion" for ideological reasons, they do it so they can continue to be free to make billions in bonuses - even if they periodically bring the economy down in the process.The Republicans don't promote huge tax cuts for the rich out of a high-minded belief that the private sector is more effective at investing hundreds of millions of dollars than the government. They do it because their wealthy backers want the money.Opposition to policies that would create millions of new clean energy jobs does not flow from the oil companies' principled opposition against an "intruding government." They want to be free to make as much money as they can, no matter what the consequences for our children or our planet.The movement for more "outsourcing" of governmental functions from public employees to private companies like Haliburton and Blackwater has nothing to do with genuine concern for "effective" government. It has everything to do with siphoning off taxpayer dollars into the hands of big corporations.

The anti-government forces have always wanted to prevent us from doing things together through a democratically accountable government, so they can do things privately to enhance their own wealth and power - often at the expense of everyone else.This year Progressives - led by the President - have the opportunity to reassert the importance of the public sector by winning health insurance reform, financial regulatory reform, and a new energy policy. Together, let's get it done.

Robert Creamer's book: "Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win," is available on amazon.com.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "China’s recently published census, showing that its population has almost stopped growing, brought warnings of severe problems for the country. “Such numbers make grim reading for the party,” reported The Economist. This “could have a disastrous impact on the country,” wrote Huang Wenzheng, a fellow at the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, in the Financial Times. But a comment posted on China’s Weibo was more insightful. “The declining fertility rate actually reflects the progress in the thinking of Chinese people – women are no longer a fertility tool.” "
Jun 12th 2021
EXTRACT: " I remember recounting fellow leaders of the story of a Rwanda schoolboy caught up in the genocide of the 1990s and now immortalized in the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum, where, in a section devoted to children, one can find his photograph and a plaque that reads: ----- David, age 11 ...... Ambition: to be a doctor ...... Favorite sport: football ...... Favorite hobby: making people laugh ...... Death: by mutilation ...... Last words: the UN are coming to save us ----- In his idealism and innocence, David believed the international community would save him and his mother. We didn’t. "
Jun 8th 2021
EXTRACT: " While many conservative Republicans opposed Trump and saw that he posed a danger to their party and democracy itself, they were hesitant to buck the mass movement they had created, fearing that it would turn against them. Some of these same conservatives assumed that with Trump's defeat, the horror of January 6th, and the former president's banishment from social media, the time had come to restore sanity to their party. But the GOP leadership’s continued cowering in the face of what they now call "Trump's base" has caused them to circle the wagons and purge their ranks of those who call for sanity. "
May 26th 2021
Editor's Note: This article is about the Federal Reserve, inflation in the 1970's, and possible similarities to today.
May 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "Netanyahu claims to be acting in the name of the Jewish people. He certainly is not. Many Jews around the world, including me, despise Netanyahu’s racist politics. As an American, I am also deeply troubled by the US government’s knee-jerk support of Israel. Fortunately, I am not alone in this view. A growing number of Democratic Congressmen, Jews and non-Jews alike, have called on the United States to stop supporting Israel’s lawlessness. The truth is that the US government’s uncritical support for Israel has come to depend more on evangelical Christians, such as former US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, than on American Jews, who are deeply divided by Netanyahu’s actions. And the evangelicals’ real interest in Zionism is not Jews’ security, but Armageddon, the end of the world, which they believe will come only when all Jews are in Israel."
May 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "This period in US history could go down as the moment when America’s democratic system for electing a president – the most consequential duty of US citizens – was broken, perhaps for good."
May 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "While reading Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) monumental report “A Threshold Crossed,” I felt a range of emotions. It also left me with one big question. I was deeply impressed by the report’s rigorous scholarship. At the same time, it brought to the surface feelings of anger and profound sadness. It’s an extraordinarily complete study detailing not only the many ways Israel has violated a broad range of Palestinian human rights, but the ideology of racial superiority and entitlement that Israel has used to justify its repression." ..... "My advice to both Israel’s defenders and weak-kneed liberals is​, “Read the damn report.” "
May 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: .... "He transformed a transitioning market economy into a stable statist project that rests on an alliance of his inner circle," ..... "He transformed Russia from a respected member of the international community into a rogue state" .... ". He energized NATO by providing it with the adversary it lacked after the end of the cold war," ..... "He befriended hopelessly corrupt, dysfunctional, and unstable dictatorships..." ..... "He forged a quasi-alliance with China, thereby enhancing Russia’s dependence on the one country that might have reason to appropriate those Russian territories inhabited by Chinese."
May 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "On the face of it, the latest escalation of violence is following the template of all inter-ethnic wars. Muslims observing Ramadan shouted nationalist slogans and clashed with Israeli right-wing groups chanting “Death to the Arabs.” The Israelis haughtily marched with their national flag on Jerusalem Day, marking Israel’s capture in 1967 of East Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the site of the biblical Second Temple, and of Al-Aqsa, completed in the year 705. Battles in and around the Al-Aqsa compound erupted, with worshipers inside throwing stones at the Israeli police, who responded by firing rubber-tipped bullets and other projectiles, wounding hundreds."
May 13th 2021
"Regardless of how the current and future violent conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians in Jerusalem will end, there will be no Israeli-Palestinian peace unless East Jerusalem becomes the capital of a Palestinian state while the city remains united."
May 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " Would the United States be prepared to risk a catastrophic war with the People’s Republic of China to protect the Republic of China, better known as Taiwan? "
May 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human history, ancient and contemporary, is replete with instances of genocide – that is, the effort to eradicate a people, erase their history, denigrate their culture, and destroy their physical presence. Many of these atrocities have been recognized by the victims and other nations who support them. But, with the notable exception of the German acknowledgment of the Holocaust, rarely have the perpetrators of these crimes accepted responsibility and offer recompense "
May 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "The best way to defend liberal democracy is to practice it at home and abroad with the “courage and self-confidence” that Kennan touted at the dawn of the Cold War. This is also the best way to ensure the survival of our own conception of human freedom. And survive it will."
May 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Sammy Roth at the LA Times/ Boiling Point Newsletter reports that California’s main power grid was powered for several hours last Saturday by 90% renewables. For just four seconds that day, the grid, which covers 4/5s of the state, reached 94.5% generation by green energy. California is the world’s fifth largest economy. The main grid does not cover Los Angeles County. On the other hand, these figures do not include the electricity generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which is not counted as renewable but which is also very low-carbon."
Apr 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "It is no accident that there has been an economic divergence in Central and Eastern Europe. Those countries that have joined the European Union have improved their economic governance, and GDP has begun to converge with Western Europe. Between 2014 and 2019, Hungary, Poland, and Romania grew at an annual average rate of 3.9%, 4.1%, and 4.7%, respectively. Meanwhile, Belarus and Ukraine experienced minimal growth during this period, and Russia’s economy expanded at an average annual rate of just 0.7%. Though Russia had a higher per capita GDP (in terms of purchasing power parity) than Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Turkey as recently as 2009, all of these countries have since overtaken it. Russians today are shocked to learn that they are worse off than Romanians and Turks. Among EU member states, only Bulgaria is still poorer than Russia. With its close proximity to the EU single market, Russia could have had higher growth if it had pursued sound economic policies. Instead,..... "
Apr 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "As far as anyone can tell, the US military is not on the verge of an internal breakdown, let alone primed to stage a coup d’état. But few predicted anything like the US Capitol riot before protesters equipped with body armor, stun guns, and zip-ties breached the building. Before the US is blindsided again, its leaders must act resolutely to root out extremism in the military."
Apr 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "The new report on 2020 by the International Renewable Energy Agency reveals that the world’s renewable energy generation capacity increased by an astonishing 10.3% in 2020 despite the global economic slowdown during the coronavirus pandemic." .... "In 2020, the global net increase in renewables was 261 gigawatts (GW). That is the nameplate capacity of some 300 nuclear power plants! There are actually only 440 nuclear power plants in the whole world, with a generation capacity of 390 gigwatts. So let’s just underline this point. The world put in 2/3s as much renewable energy in one year as is produced by all the existing nuclear plants!"
Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."