The Conservative Message Paradox

The debate about America’s government has degenerated from legitimately discussing the limits of power and criticizing waste, to depicting all government as evil and innately wasteful with public servants as overpaid loafers. To have a democracy means debate never ends, but there is a difference between legitimate criticism and ideological accusation. We need to take a fresh, common-sense look at these arguments.

The conservative assertion is that government is to blame for America’s economic woes; getting government out of the market and allowing “job creators” to keep more of their money would solve our problems. In short, government is the problem, not the solution. The problem with this oversimplification is that its proponents offer the same formula in good times and bad. Further, conservatives have a vested ideological interest in ensuring government does not function as it should to prove their thesis correct. Turning to conservatives to fix government is like hiring criminals to be police officers and wondering why crime is so high.

The conservative argument that cutting taxes, removing regulation, and shrinking government are always the solutions, no matter the conditions, defies logic. How can it be that, in the best of times and the worst of times, the answer is always the same? It is the equivalent of a doctor prescribing aspirin for both headaches and double amputations. If it does not work the first time, just cut, slash, and shrink even further. It is their answer in our current downturn, but it was also their answer in much better times than these. There is no such thing as a cure-all.

Why would we, as Americans, turn to people to make policy for us who have a stated opposition to government and expect them to generate cogent policies and programs? It should not be surprising that our government does not work as it should. Turning to conservatives to fix benefits programs they oppose is not rational.

When we elect conservatives to government office, we are saying we want our tax dollars wasted even more than any “tax and spend liberal” ever could. Putting someone in charge of making policy for an institution they do not believe in and ideologically oppose guarantees waste. We cannot expect government to be run competently by people that oppose it or want to see it dispensed with.

There is always room in a democracy for criticism, but there is no room for ideological sabotage. In our debate about how government should work and how to fix our debt, we cannot expect people that are diametrically opposed to government and its programs to work in good faith to fix them. The inmates cannot run the asylum. Turning to conservatives to make government work better, reduce our debt, and to save programs like Social Security and Medicare would be doing just that.

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