Big Government, GOP, Help, Ideology, Joe Biden, Kristi Noem, Libertarianism, Republican Party, Ronald Reagan
“I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me.”
“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help. “
Also Ronald Reagan
At times, it seems like there is no real difference between the Democratic Party and that of the Republicans. At other times, the difference seems loud and clear. In other moments you can practically see the gap between the two parties widening.. South Dakota Governor, Kristi Noem’s response to Joe Biden up above is one such moment.
Scratch that: It’s two!
First we have Joe Biden suggesting that he will help struggling Americans once he becomes President.
Then we have Kristi Noem reminding us of the old Reagan quote to the effect that the worst thing you can hear is that someone from the government is coming to help you.
By 2 moments when the gap between Republicans and Democrats widens, you might think I mean, first Biden’s comment, then Noem’s, but I don’t. I mean the Reagan quote and then Noem’s use of it. Those two references reveal the ever-deepening cynicism of the Republican Party.
It was Reagan that really embedded the libertarian themes in modern Republican politics. He did so through folksy statements like the one Noem’s quoted above, statements which contributed to a growing sense that government couldn’t be used to solve real-world problems, and a sense that this view was as natural to any real Americans as life itself. Through statements like that one, Reagan took the GOP in a direction which would become ever more hostile to American government. What might have sounded like skepticism at first, the response of those unconvinced in the efficacy of government aid, has become ever more strident, until we have now reached a moment wherein the faithful cannot bring themselves to imagine the possibility of that government could do anything but hurt people.
The trajectory that takes people from this modest skepticism to the fanatical anti-government stance we see in so many today is a simple shift from figurative speech to literal interpretation. One has only to take Reagan’s clever turn of a phrase literally. One has only to mean it, and to mean it literally.
One of the ironic things about Reagan’s anti-government rhetoric? It came from a fan of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the architect of the New Deal, a President who did more to insert government into American lives than any President in American history. Reagan was fond of saying he wasn’t the one that changed; it was the Democrats, but this is plainly not true. Reagan changed from a man who could celebrate a champion of big government to one who preached against government programs every chance he got.
Statements from Reagan like the one Noem chose to quote above helped to build a new anti-governemnt ideology that now underscores the ideology of modern Republicans. Those seeking government aid are not merely wrong-headed, they are a source of positive evil. You can see this world view in Newt Gingrich’s contract With America, and in the careers of every pundit with a prominent place in the right wing echo chamber. You can also see it in the Oklahoma City Bombing, and in the rhetoric of local ‘militia’s’ all over the United States. More to the point, you can see it in Noem’s glib dismissal of the possibility that a new President could actually help the American people during a time of crisis.
What we see in the modern GOP is a cult which takes Reagan’s maxim quite literally. This is not mere skepticism; it is a pious confrontation with evil itself, or so they imagine. What they see in any effort to use the power of government to help Americans is nothing less than a genuine attack on the American people. The horrors they imagine to follow from government aid are more real to the true believers in the Republican Party than the realities of Covid19 or its economic consequences. The possibilities of government aid seem more terrible to them than the actual deaths of their friends and family. We are thus left with a political party that not only fails to take reasonable steps to combat a pandemic, it actively resists those efforts and even takes steps (such as Trump rallies) to endanger more people.
What does it take to make sense of the Republican Party and its refusal to take responsible measures in combating this life-threatening disease? One needs only to take them at their word.
People like Kristi Noem do not think government can help people.
She will not protect her people. To do so would be a heresy against Reagan’s old maxim.
Instead, she lets them die.
Thank you for a well planned essay. Some of us just rant and rave about the situation instead of analyzing it.
I did follow The Lincoln Project (republicans against Trump) and listen to their podcast. I feel they will continue with their support for Biden.
I don’t have any great insights. I only know what I feel and what I observe. The coming years will be difficult.
Well, you have given me a heavy thought to digest. You certainly are on to something that I have been trying to understand about the current Republican insanity. Your thought gives some clarity to the actions or inactions of the Republican leadership during this pandemic.
Reagan’s comments were set against the backdrop of the disastrous Vietnam War started by the government, Lyndon Johnson, Democrat. (Of course this stemmed from the Woodrow Wilson, Democrat idea, that somehow, the American government could make the whole world “safe for democracy” ). The Vietnam War and its aftermath led to many years of inflation and a terrible economy. Hence the intense dislike and distrust of government. Lyndon Johnson almost destroyed a whole generation. However, no one wanted to go back to pre-Depression era policies. Note that Barry Goldwater who ran on that type of platform, was soundly defeated. Reagan won twice, but Tip O’Neil, the last New Deal Democrat also won. Federal spending as a percent of GNP did not change much under Reagan. Etc. What Reagan actually did led Barack O’bama, a Democrat, to say on a few occasions that Ronald Reagan would not be nominated in the Republican Party of today. The problem of course is the duopoly. We need more than two parties. You can’t squeeze the diversity of America, whatever parameters you choose, into two parties. The parties in essence are parodies of themselves. We either need more parties to really represent the actual America, or we should just man up and split the country up, and amicably go our separate ways.
The war in Viet Nam was not started by Johnson; it actually began when Eisenhower sent “military advisors” to Viet Nam, and it gained traction — turned into a war — under Kennedy. Putting all the blame on Johnson is incorrect.
I can see you were not around at the time. The war began when the draft began. Eisenhower ended the war in Korea and ended the draft. Kennedy ended the Cuban Crisis. Without a draft. Johnson started the unconstitutional draft of millions of men in an undeclared war, a so-called police action, while he protected his own friends and profited from the war. HEY, HEY LBJ, HOW MANY KIDS DID YOU KILL TODAY. Do you remember that? Everyone who was around then knows the war began when the draft began. And Lyndon Johnson started the draft. Guns and butter. He tried that and failed. His own party kicked him out. They knew he would have lost anyway. The US is fighting wars almost non-stop. As I said, that started with Woodrow Wilson. As long as you get to volunteer or not, the public does not get too involved. For better or worse. Personally when the Cold War ended, and the Berlin Wall fell, I would have started to bring troops home and finally end the age of Woodrow Wilson Most Americans however will go along with this state of affairs as long as you get to volunteer and not be forced into something that does not relate to you. Lyndon Johnson created a false dialog, he started the war, he started the draft, and he was rejected by his own party.
I was in college at the time. I still recall listening to the draft numbers being called with the first lottery and awaiting my birthday to be called. So — well, you are completely wrong and I was indeed around at the time.
The war was in full swing when I was in high school. There were protests even then.
Johnson did not start the war. Period. Really, you should look up this stuff before you post.
This is a well written summary/description of the Reagan issue — thank you!
I think the leadership of the republican party has never quite gotten over the Nixon near-impeachment, and as a result they harbor a lingering “scorched-earth policy” when it comes to political negotiations. In the 1980s we witnessed the horrific tactics of Lee Atwater (who repudiated his own actions on his deathbed) followed later by a continuation of revenge-as-policy by the likes of Gingrich and Cheney; now we must deal with McConnell and his proteges, who see politics as a means to simply destroying useful structures of government.
Reagan may have been correct in his observation that, “Of the four wars in my lifetime, none came about because the U.S. was too strong”; however, I have long wondered what may have historically come to fruition had the U.S. remained the sole possessor of atomic weaponry.
There’s a presumptive, and perhaps even arrogant, concept of American governance as somehow, unless physically provoked, being morally/ethically above using nuclear weapons internationally.
After President Harry S. Truman relieved General Douglas MacArthur as commander of the forces warring with North Korea — for the latter’s public remarks about how he would/could use dozens of atomic bombs to promptly end the war — Americans’ approval-rating of the president dropped to 23 percent. It is still a record-breaking low, even lower than the worst approval-rating points of the presidencies of Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson.
My muse is: had it not been for the formidable international pressure on Truman (and perhaps his personal morality) to relieve MacArthur as commander, would/could Truman eventually have succumbed to domestic political pressure to allow MacArthur’s command to continue?