“They play to your fear, government plays to your fear.”
“Will you resist the temptation to get a government handout for your community?”
“Most businesses would tell you that they presently take care of their employees. They don’t need government telling them how to do it.”
“Government is a dangerous thing.”
No, these quotes aren’t from a recent Fox News broadcast about the coronavirus crisis. They’re examples from a decades-long, relentless attack on government by corporations, conservative politicians, and right wing think tanks.
Over the past few months we’ve been collecting anti-government rhetoric from Ronald Reagan to the Cato Institute to the mid-20th-century white supremacist Sen. James Eastland. We’ve dubbed it “The Anti-Government Echo Chamber.”
What stands out is that anti-government rhetoric has gotten clearer and more consistent over time. It’s come from diverse right-wing voices, from white supremacists to the religious right. It’s been weaponized to oppose a wide range of policies and programs, from education to ensuring civil rights. Of course, it’s been selective—focused on the safety net and public services we all rely on but silent about tax cuts, subsidies, and other benefits for corporations.
And it’s been effective—dramatically so. Taxes on corporations and the wealthy have been slashed. Public budgets have been cut. Public goods and services have been privatized, from highways to education. Nearly every state’s tax code is regressive, meaning they collect more taxes from low-income people than high-income people as a share of their income. At the federal level, spending on public health, education, and other nondefense discretionary programs is at a historic low.
Despite what these voices have said, government is the only institution capable of ensuring that things like quality health care, clean water, a good education, well-paid work, and equal voice are available to all. There are just some things that private markets can’t do.
We published “The Anti-Government Echo Chamber” also as a call to action to progressive leaders, thinkers, strategists, organizations, organizers, and activists.
Virtually every policy, program, and issue we focus on relies on using public power to create a fairer, healthier, and safer country and world. Yet, progressives rarely talk about government successes and progress except when under attack. The language we use is often tinged with anti-government attitudes.
Conservatives have long been clear about what they want—less government, a weaker democracy, and more power for corporations, the bigger the better. Progressives have focused on specific issues and campaigns and remained silent on the ideas that unite those issues.
The coronavirus crisis is revealing the dire need for effective, democratic, adequately funded public institutions. We must create our own “Pro-Public Echo Chamber” until our ideas become the new popular conventional wisdom and a governing reality. Are you with us?