“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.