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Essays, States of Exception

How Republicans are Restoring Faith in Government

The Republican Congress appears committed to the sequester as part of larger campaign to reduce government spending, programs and taxation. This has become the core of their identity and the crux of their ideology, which often plays well rhetorically — especially when the cuts are to someone else’s program. That’s fine in theory, but when those cuts are specified, it’s a different story. This is no more true than when those cuts affect our daily routine, which is exactly what the sequester threatens to do.

None of us likes our routine messed with. Republicans should know this better than anyone. They have exploited resentment over government regulations and taxation for decades. They ought to get this, but it appears that their opposition to government programs has become habit-forming, because now they find themselves in an odd situation. Their refusal to negotiate with President Obama on the sequester is serving to remind us of the good that government does, while at the same time reminding us of how Republicans don’t seem to care.

I’m less concerned about this second point, the partisan payoff, than I am with the decline in cynicism toward the government’s ability to pursue the good. Cynicism doesn’t help us when it comes to thinking through big problems. It biases us toward private enterprise, even when evidence indicates that government does something more effectively and efficiently. This bias has dominated our politics since Reagan–at least. More than 30 years after Watergate and Vietnam, it seems that cynicism has finally leveled off and is now ebbing. This makes anti-government ideology a harder sell, which means we should be freed up to think more openly and critically about how to address pressing issues, like climate change, the cost of healthcare, gun violence and so on.

The irony is that Republican arrogance is working to bring about the very thing they oppose.  One might think this would lead to a change or even repentance on their part, but for the party of principle, change is always a sign of moral failing. Irony abounds.

For a look at the harm the Sequester will do, see here.


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