You know you’re doing something right when this is how John Boehner reacts:
“Oh. My. God.”
— House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), quoted by NBC News, reacting after having just read the provisions in the $825 billion stimulus package unveiled by Democrats.
But there’s more than majoritarian schadenfreude at work here. There’s a reason John Boehner is afraid.
In recent history, dislike of and distrust of government has risen exponentially. Everything from the Kennedy assassination to the Vietnam war to Watergate and the Clinton impeachment have shook the American people’s faith in their government. And instead of working to fix that government, Republicans built a brilliant electoral strategy that both feeds into–and feeds off of–that distrust.
The GOP turned anti-governmentalism into their core philosophy and set out to convince us that the best federal government was no federal government. The alternative to government was pro-corporate free market fundamentalism.
But this economic crisis–as well as the other crises in the past eight years–have shown us that the federal government is sometimes necessary. The American people are coming to believe, once again, that there is a role for our government that only it can play.
This legislation undercuts the anti-government pro-business argument Republicans have been making for decades. But that wasn’t always the case–at first, it contained huge amounts of giveaways to businesses, including hundreds of billions in corporate tax cuts.
But, as it turns out, the American people want more government spending, and prefer it over tax cuts; the one thing they don’t want in this is more giveaways to corporations. Which makes sense, since the current economic crisis has shown us that, contrary to Republican dogma, letting business run the show is a decidedly bad idea.
So, Obama and the Democrats took many of the corporate giveaways out of the bill and replaced it with more government spending aimed to directly benefit the American people.
And that’s why Boehner is afraid–this legislation could help the American people in significant ways, yet it’s not based on Republican dogma. For once, Democrats are rejecting conservative arguments about “the free market” and “getting government off people’s backs” and are instead using the power of the federal government to help people in in need.
The Republicans know that this bill–and other legislation like it–could, in the long run, end up restoring the American people’s faith in their government, completely undercutting the basic foundation of GOP economic dogma.
That’s why Boehner & co. are going to fight this tooth and nail. They need the economy to continue failing. They need the federal government to be impotent in the face of crises. They need to show the American people that it wasn’t just the Bush administration who failed, that that the federal government itself is destined to fail. To prove their point, Republicans are going to try to the Obama administration fail at all costs.
Like I’ve said before, this bill won’t fix everything and nobody should expect it to. But it can go a long way toward starting to undo the damage that’s already been done. It’s going to be a long road to economic recovery, but taking steps like passing this bill will put us on that road.