The phrase “big government” is a canard. That Koch brothers-inspired canard has been decades in the making. Charles and David Koch insist the principal threat to “liberty” is “big government.”
It is a concept that is now deeply embedded in our public consciousness. So much so that it is doubtful CNN’s Chris Cuomo had any inkling that his question was absurd.
“Is the era of big government back with President Sanders?” Cuomo asked Bernie Sanders during the January 25 Democratic Presidential Forum.
Had it ever left?
The United States government maintains nearly 800 military bases in over 70 countries. It accounts for 37% of the world’s $1.7 trillion/year military expenditures. It spends as much as the next nine largest nations combined. At the end of August 2015, “there were 21,995,000 employed by federal, state and local government in the United States.”
Such a government can, by no stretch of the imagination, be described as “little.”
Ideological Cover for Assault on Democratic Accountability
You will never hear the “big government” complaint from Republicans when they vote to bail out Wall Street. No one registers that complaint as a GOP-controlled Congress funnels billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded subsidies to the oil cartel and health insurance industry.
The “big government” concern was not raised as the Bush regime handed out no-bid contracts to Halliburton — an Iraq war connected process that funneled $39.5 billion to Dick Cheney’s company. And, you don’t hear mainstream media commentators complaining about “big government” as the GOP via its “war on women” seeks to impose its own narrow, and oft hypocritical, concepts about sexuality upon everyone else.
True to form, Cuomo’s “big government” remark came only after Bernie Sanders laid out a litany of government policies that would be adopted to benefit the many at the expense of tax evading multinational corporations and the billionaire class.
The Vermont senator wants to expand Social Security by lifting the cap on the Social Security tax. He would replace our current corrupt, dysfunctional and deadly for-profit healthcare system with a cost-effective single-payer healthcare system that would save the lives of more than 27,000 Americans/year and end medical bill bankruptcies.
Bernie proposes a massive public works project that would repair and rebuild a crumbling infrastructure. That project would create 13 million jobs and, as we previously reported, create an opportunity to end the national disgrace of veterans’ homelessness. Most importantly, he proposes a sharp reversal of the deregulation that had permitted Wall Street greed and fraudulent practices to shove the world’s financial system to the edge of an abyss.
In the last analysis, “big government” in the minds of the billionaire class means any government program that fulfills what the framers of the U.S. Constitution described as a core purpose of government — “to promote the general welfare.” What they fear is not really “big government” but the accountability that accompanies democratic governance.
Wall Street thieves and other billionaires poison our air and water while concealing a global climate change that threatens the survival of our species. They fear an end to a two-tiered justice system that imposes a harsh criminal code upon ordinary citizens while offering near complete impunity to our financial elites for what, in some instances, should be considered as crimes against humanity.
We the people should not fear “big government.” Instead, as revealed by the poisoning of Flint’s water, the real threat to our health, safety and liberty comes from unaccountable oligarchy.
Tyranny of Big Corporations
Corporations are more totalitarian than most institutions we call totalitarian in the political arena – Noam Chomsky
For most Americans, when they hear the phrase “big government” they think of George Orwell’s all-intrusive “Big Brother.” And, certainly we’ve seen an element of that from a now-oligarchic government whose National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance system may exceed what Orwell described in his chilling novel, 1984 — all intrusive surveillance which is, itself, a source of immense profits for the corporations retained to directly spy on every American.
But the companies who perform that task on behalf of the NSA are not the only ones who engage in it. Private corporations and the billionaires who control them have no qualms about playing the role of private “Big Brothers” in order to main rigid totalitarian control over their own workforce and the voting public.
Take Walmart, for example, the world’s largest company. In Thieves in High Places, Jim Hightower describes Walmart as the “Beast from Bentonville” and “the world’s most powerful private force for lowering labor standards and stifling the middle-class aspirations of workers everywhere.”
It wasn’t nearly the corporate giant that we know today when, in 1986, the Arkansas-based company’s founder Sam Walton invited the wife of the governor of his state to join its then all-male 15-member Board of Directors. Hillary Clinton, then a corporate lawyer, served on the Walmart board from 1986 to 1992 — the year Bill Clinton was elected President.
As noted by Hightower, Walmart became the principal beneficiary of the spate of so-called “free trade” agreements, beginning with NAFTA. According to Forbes, Walmart now operates “11,000 stores in 27 countries.” It is the largest private company in terms of revenue ($485.7 billion in 2014). There are only two government organizations that employ more people than Walmart’s 2.2 million — the U.S. and Chinese militaries.
Politifact rated as true Bernie Sanders statement that the 6-member “Walton family of Walmart own more wealth than the bottom 40% of America.” Hillary Clinton continues to be closely tied to the Walton family. Alice Walton is one of her principal supporters.
Walmart is the poster child for unbridled corporate greed. It’s “always low prices” translate to rock bottom wages. Yet, it receives $7.8 billion/year in “federal subsidies and tax breaks,” including “6.2 billion in public assistance for low-wage Walmart employees, including food stamps, subsidized housing, and Medicaid.”
While Walmart has always deployed fierce tactics to block employee unionization, its “Delta team” response to the possibility of a 2012 Black Friday strike was extraordinary. Walmart hired a cybersecurity team from the giant military contractor, Lockheed Martin. They spied on workers and labor organizers. The giant retail corporation then followed up by “working with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force to counter worker protests.”
You won’t find any Republican “big government” protests about that one.
In 2011,The U.S.Chamber of Commerce retained a law firm and three federal contractors. Using tools developed for the “war on terror,” they targeted media foes with a surveillance and disinformation campaign. Those targeted included my colleague Brad Friedman of Pacifica Radio and journalist Glenn Greenwald.
And then there’s the pair of billionaire “Big Brothers,” Charles and David Koch. The two engage in a form of thought control by using their enormous wealth to dictate what can be taught even at a public university like Florida State.
“Big government” is nothing more than a pejorative phrase. It is designed to fend off progressive change and democratic accountability. Our concern should not be on the size of the government, but whether it is a responsive government that serves the interests of the many. We need a democratically accountable government that strives to provide everyone with the liberty that can only come with economic security — a government that protects the survival of our species by assuring a sustainable environment.
Ernest A. Canning is a retired attorney, author, Vietnam Veteran (4th Infantry, Central Highlands 1968) and a Senior Advisor to Veterans For Bernie. He has been a member of the California state bar since 1977. In addition to a juris doctor, he has received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science. Follow him on twitter: @cann4ing