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.