The Assumptions Beneath the "Four Words"

Some Democratic strategists are having difficulty coming up with the “Four Words” that will convey the Democrats’ core philosophy and vision. While creating a bumper-sticker size vision is important, the conventional wisdom that underlies the Four Words are equally pertinent and before a new Democratic vision can resonate that motivating sensibility must be altered.

We all know that the Republicans’ Four Words are “Less Taxes. Less Government.” If this were to actually take place, however, it would probably be bad news for the vast majority of those who voted Republican in the last election. It is a well-known fact that the Blue States’ wealth is redistributed to the Red States at the Federal level. Less government and taxes then would imply less Federal money for Southern, Plains and Rocky Mountain states. If you extend Government to mean regulations and incentives that distort markets then it is no less of a disaster for Red Staters. Across the vast middle of the country and into the Red regions of Blue states, subsidies, tariffs and free water prop up farming communities that would not withstand the competition of a free market.

So what is the “Government” that Republicans are so anxious to have less of? Well the frustrating parts of social life are the “Government” that Republicans want to get rid of. The “Government” integrated the schools; having electricity provided to rural homes for cheap is just how things are. The “Government” supports welfare queens; giving oil companies a depletion allowance is just how things are.

The political genius of the assumptions behind the Republicans’ Four Words is that Americans of any political stripe will obviously think of what they dislike most when thinking of “Less Government.” “Government” is Watergate, negative campaigns, special interest groups, irresponsible spending, the war on drugs etc. Putting a man on the moon, the interstate highway system and money that flows into every hamlet in America is not “Government.” Even when it is Republicans who give “Government” a bad name it still helps their cause so long as the “Government” looks bad.

The reality, of course, is complicated. Some subsides and incentives are good, some government programs are helpful, others are obviously wasteful; all of this depends on the eye of the beholder. Given the pessimistic bent of the press it will be hard to overcome the negative feelings that prop up the Republicans’ Four Words, but here’s my try:

Guess what ladies and gentleman, the government has always been big! Sure, some hardy pioneers went west to make their fortune, and many of them did, often with the help of the Natives. When multitudes of others followed west the indigenous peoples did not take kindly to having their land and lifestyle taken away. Those early settlers and Indians fought, but guess who finished the fight and “tamed” the West? That’s right, it was the government. That was mighty big of them, huh? Guess who then parceled out that land for pennies on the dollar to the railroads? The Government once again.

Here’s the deal. The Government has always been big. All that progressives have done is make sure that it acts favorably for average Americans as well as private business interests.

If you want wasteful government that subsidizes inefficient industries and lowers innovation brought on by a competitive government, while redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich, then vote for the Republicans. If you want a government that challenges industry to prosper while respecting the environment and providing a working wage, and that makes sure the tax burden does not fall heaviest on the poor, then vote for the Democrats: Fair Taxes. Smart Government.