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Anti-Government Government

(cross-posted at tpmcafe.com)

The Bush initiative for rebuilding the Gulf Coast amounts, as others have said, to an experiment in massive government spending to test essentially anti-government ideas, particularly the idea of creating tax- and regulation-free zones to attract commerce.

As Harold Meyerson points out, this anti-government government is a revival of Jack Kemp-ism, the platform of market-based, ownership initiatives as a poverty strategy that Kemp championed when he was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Bush 41 administration. As Meyerson points out, these strategies, especially Enterprise Zones or Empowerment Zones, proved to be of very limited value. Tax incentives alone have very little effect on where employers choose to locate jobs. Investing in education is demonstrably more likely to make employers want to place a plant or an office in an impoverished urban or rural community.

But there's one little correction to Meyerson's piece: Jack Kemp talked about Enterprise Zones, but he never implemented them in any significant way. Bill Clinton did. And, after some false starts, he did it in a way that was much more effective than tax credits alone, adding $1 billion in direct funding for communities that developed comprehensive plans for their futures. It was a mixed experiment, to say the least, but it was undertaken and implemented with seriousness and passion by Kemp's successor at HUD, Henry Cisneros, and had some notable successes.

I point this out not just to correct the record, but because it's an important point: The Right doesn't really carry out innovative social policies, they mostly just talk about them. And they use them entirely as a tool of opposition, for no purpose other than to say, "Liberals want to throw money at failed old programs, but we've got a new approach..." It's false on two levels. Liberals/Democrats are absolutely interested in new and market-based approaches, if they work. And conservatives aren't really interested in those approaches, they just like having an excuse to do nothing.

I pointed this out in a review a few weeks ago of Rick Santorum's book, It Takes a Family. Throughout his discussion of poverty policy, Santorum begins paragraphs like this:
?The Village Elders [his term for liberals] consider a large percentage of our population to be helpless: they're not going to consider how to empower the poor to build wealth,? or ?The village elders like to show they care for the poor among us simply by spending more money,? rather than investing strategically to build communities. But then Santorum offers his solution, always a piece of legislation that he cosponsored with a liberal like Senator Jon Corzine.

A friend suggested at lunch today that the Republicans wouldn't be able to succeed with the Gulf Coast rebuilding initiative because they are so hostile to government that they can't carry out a big-government project. By analogy, he suggested that if Democrats had to carry out a significant downsizing of government, we wouldn't do it well. Each has its strength. And that's certainly the public perception.

Except that it was only under the last Democratic administration that the government was significantly downsized, growth in federal spending slowed and the number of federal employees significantly reduced. Initiatives like Vice President Gore's Reinventing Government took the project of making government more efficient very seriously and made it work. Republicans can't make big government work and they can't make small government work either, because they're too glib and uninterested in the whole undertaking. All they can do is cut taxes and leave the hard work for someone else.

Bottom line: Whether you want innovative, market-based programs to end poverty (and I do, balanced with other programs), whether you want smaller more efficient government, or whether you want a big, WPA-style undertaking, you have to put it in the hands of people who understand government, who care about making it work, who don't view it as the enemy.

Posted by Mark Schmitt on September 16, 2005 | Permalink

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Comments

So, based on the CBO numbers, domestic discretionary spending went down under Clinton, and was, over eight years, reduced from 3.4% of GDP to 3.0% of GDP, what would amount to a 12% reduction. However, some of the increase post-Clinton, like CHIP expansion, was enacted under Clinton.

What was cut to make that happened? Some of it was in the salaries of federal employees, if I recall, either through absolute cuts or by freezing salaries without cost of living increases for a few years. Were there any other big ticket cuts?

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Sep 16, 2005 7:19:31 PM

Okay, this is an online plea.
Democracy for America is hosting an online competition for Progessive candidates and Bruce Braley, a strong candidate, needs to get in the top 10 to go on to the next round.
Here’s info. on Bruce: http://www.brucebraley.com/issues.asp

He is currently in 11th place!

Meanwhile, this guy http://www.glubaforcongress.com/ in the same district, a tired old fart who’s run for Congress 3 times and lost each, has somehow gotten up to #6.
I suspect foul play.

But please go vote http://www.democracyforamerica.com/
for Bruce. He’s the guy who can win us a seat in Congress and is someone we should all be excited about.

Posted by: | Sep 17, 2005 2:15:10 PM

Mark writes:
[Y]ou have to put it in the hands of people who understand government, who care about making it work, who don't view it as the enemy.

Placing conservatives in charge of the government is like putting Lenin in charge of General Electric.

When I interview for a job, no one is going to hire me if I say, "I hate this job. I hate this company. In fact, I hate what the company stands for." But we seem to be proud to vote for people who feel the same way about government.

Kilroy

Posted by: Kilroy was Here | Sep 18, 2005 12:28:19 PM

Kilroy, that should go on a t-shirt.

Posted by: Saheli | Sep 18, 2005 8:47:54 PM

Yep. Democrats do *anything* better than Republicans. Except get elected, which is the problem. Dems can't win, Repubs can't govern.

Posted by: MQ | Sep 19, 2005 1:51:16 PM

Last Thursday’s speech by President Bush in New Orleans’ Jackson Square kicked off the administrations’ cynical campaign to snatch political victory from the jaws of defeat in the wake of its disastrous Katrina response. Karl Rove’s strategy for the coming 2006 mid-term elections will modeled on his 2002 GOP success with the Department of Homeland Security. With the Gulf States devastated, hundreds dead and thousands displaced, President Bush and the GOP will lace a popular recovery program featuring massive federal spending with a laundry list of conservative initiatives damned by the left and previously rejected by the American people. Putting politics before the people of the Gulf Coast, President Bush will then dare the Democrats to block them.

For the full story, see:

"Poison Pill: The Bush Prescription for Katrina."

Posted by: Jon | Sep 19, 2005 1:59:12 PM

All they can do is cut taxes and leave the hard work for someone else.

Change "cut taxes" to "borrow money" or even "borrow money from our children," and we've got a long-term talking point.

"All they ever do is borrow money from our children and leave the hard work for someone else." Re-use as necessary.

Posted by: Doug | Sep 20, 2005 9:53:11 AM

Not getting your legislation passed? Do it my way for once. Read my plan here.

http://tinyurl.com/8ghl8

http://revolution-nine.spreadshirt.com

Where Republicans tread, innocent people end up dead.


Another Pledge of Allegiance


I pledge no allegiance
To the court appointed unelected regents
( G W Bush and Dick Cheney )
Of the United States of America
For which they use the flag
To make a political grandstand.
I make my pledge
To the United States
And its constitution instead.

Posted by: buckfush | Oct 1, 2005 3:27:21 AM