Saturday, April 16, 2011

A tale of two articles

Last week, NBC anchor David Gregory, commenting on what he saw as PHC*'s 2012 campaign strategy, said this:
[H]e sounded very much like a Republican talking about the need to cut spending. ... He wants the American people to know ...that he is in line with what a lot of Americans want, which is less government, trimming down the size and the scope of government.
Now, in fact, according to repeated opinion polls (scroll down at the link) and even what we kept getting told was the "message" of the 2010 elections, what people are most concerned about is the economy and jobs, not "less government." Even so, Gregory expresses the views of the media elite, the pundits who are convinced that what they are most concerned about (since they do not depend on government services the way scores of millions of us do) is what everyone else is most concerned about.

So I found it bitterly amusing that these two news items appeared on the same day, Friday: One reflected the inside-the-Beltway wisdom that the real battle is over who can make their cuts in federal programs seem more in line with "what Americans want," which is, they say, "less government."
A bold but politically risky plan to cut trillions of dollars from the federal budget is coming to a House vote, with insurgent Republicans rallying behind the idea of fundamentally reshaping the government's role in health care for the elderly and the poor.
The other told a little tale of what "less government" would mean in the real world.
Half the meat and poultry sold in the supermarket may be tainted with the staph germ, a new report suggests.

The new estimate is based on just 136 samples of beef, chicken, pork and turkey purchased from grocery stores in Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Flagstaff, Ariz. and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. ...

The new study found more than half the samples contained Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria that can make people sick. Worse, half of those contaminated samples had a form of staph that's resistant to at least three kinds of antibiotics.
This is not, I suppose, an ideal example as proper cooking pretty much takes care of the bacteria present, but it still should serve as a reminder - particularly since the FDA came into existence amid public outrage about adulterated and mislabeled foods and drugs - a reminder that "less government" includes by definition even less regulation, even less oversight, of corporate America than exists now; it means even less environmental, health, and worker safety protection; it means looser standards with fewer inspectors to enforce them. Maybe before we buy into the "trimming down the size and the scope of government" meme we should all re-read The Jungle.

Long Footnote: Admittedly, when asked directly if the federal government has "too much power," without any connection to how worried they are about that, an overall majority of those in a March Gallup poll said yes despite a rather sharp divide among Dems, GOPpers, and independents - and despite, I'd add, the overly-general nature of the question, which limits its usefulness: For example, I'd say the feds have too much power to invade privacy, too much power to wage war without public input and even over public opposition, too much power to hide secrets and conceal crimes behind "national security" excuses, too much power to restrict civil liberties; overall, the "security state" has too much power. But I'd also say the feds don't have enough power over, enough control over, for example, the corporate state.

Still, the point here is that even if people think as a general principle the federal government has "too much power," it's not something that they are overly concerned with; it's not something that registers high (or even low) on the list of immediate concerns. The "size of government" exists for most people as a philosophical question, not a political one.

On the other hand, it is worth noting that in that same Gallup poll, there were three groups that even larger majorities said had "too much power" and in those three cases, majorities of Dems, GOPpers, and indies all agreed. Those groups are big business, the banks, and lobbyists - the very people who would become even more powerful under "less government." When was the last time you heard some media pundit explaining how "Americans want" limits on the power of corporations and banks?

Thanks to Jobsanger for the link to the poll.

*PHC = President Hopey-Changey

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