In a two week span in which the East Coast of the United States was beset by a monstrous hurricane, states in the same area had their strongest earthquake since World War II and Colorado experienced its most violent quake since 1967, we were reminded once again of the important role played by federal government in our society.
Now, I’m no constitutional scholar - like, say, Michele Bachmann - but I remember something in that document about government’s responsibility for “the general welfare”, which I can only assume means that if the state you live in comes to resemble Waterworld there is probably a useful role for the government in helping you keep your head above water.
This is not only a progressive view of governance. It is also one rooted in reality and based on US history and culture. In the early days of the republic, the Congressional Act of 1803 provided assistance to a New Hampshire town damaged severely by a fire.
This pattern would continue as Congress would help the victims of natural disasters in the two centuries to follow - not including Lady Gaga’s performance at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards or Tim Pawlenty’s presidential campaign, of course.
The stories like the fire in New Hampshire, however, have not formed the dominant narrative since that actor-who-climbed-into-bed-with-the-monkey transformed government into something that was on your back or just for those “welfare queens”.
Reagan and his ideological soulmates understood quite well that as Josef Stalin infamously said, while “the death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.”
In other words, if Americans realize that a single-payer healthcare system will help protect their parents and children from disease, then they’ll be for it. But if it can be something abstract that just helps those other people who are mere statistics at best, supplied by an amorphous “big government” with no human face, long tentacles and the ability to force you to drink fluorinated water or strictly require a pulse to purchase a firearm - well, then, it’s easy to hate.
And hate it they do. As long as it is government spending for you, and not them.
Because the truth is, with very few exceptions, conservative elected officials (of both parties) are hypocrites when it comes to spending money.
It’s probably why they hate that darn intrusive government until it’s time to collect those fat farm subsidies for the family estate, or that government-sponsored healthcare they happily take but would be a leftover Soviet plot with a side of El Che if it were offered to you.
You need more examples? Well, how about the Social Security-despising, French-cuff cowboy himself, Governor Rick Perry of Texas? Man, does he hate that Obama stimulus plan - except for when he doesn’t hate it so much.
Namely, when it helps him.
According to the Texas Tribune, “Through the second quarter of this year, Texas has used $17.4bn in federal stimulus money - including $8bn of the one-time dollars to fund state expenses that recur over and over. In fact, Texas used the federal stimulus to balance its last two budgets.”
Perry, of course, is far from the only tea party darling who takes his Earl Grey with some sugar and your tax dollars. There is Congresswoman Bachmann, formerly one of those “jack-booted thug” IRS agents, which she now claims was part of “knowing your enemy”.
I guess that’s probably why she also learned to read.
In any case, Bachmann seemingly decided to see Perry’s porking out on stimulus funding, and raise him a family farm and business, according to, among others, the Los Angeles Times:
“A counseling clinic run by her husband has received nearly $30,000 from the state of Minnesota in the last five years, money that in part came from the federal government. A family farm in Wisconsin, in which the congresswoman is a partner, received nearly $260,000 in federal farm subsidies.”
A quarter-million bucks of your and my tax money for her farm. She sure did get to know the enemy pretty well.
Similar examples abound among other GOP presidential candidates, congressional leadership and party officials, as shame seems to have a very short shelf life in conservative America.
It sure didn’t stop walking tea party bullhorn, Representative Joe Walsh of Illinois, from bellyaching about how we had to live within our means during our debt debate - as he was being sued for over $100,000 for deciding his former wife simply didn’t need funds for his three kids for the past decade or so.
The practitioners of the tea party arts seem very comfortable with the idea. As Mark Twain once said, “nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits.”
Follow me on Twitter @cliffschecter
Originally published at Al Jazeera English