We have heard this line from the GOP more often than we care to be inundated by it ad nauseam—“More business in government means less government in business.” This is not only a well-known principle of American Conservatism but is an official credo of the US Chamber of Commerce. Basically, conservatism is equated to traditions and respect for them. But in America, it has always been an expression of business. Knowing this is to understand the movement.
The conservative condition has changed over the years but its general traits have managed to remain the same, such as commitment to the free market, less government interference, hostility to taxation, regulation, labor unions and public assets under state ownership, priority and needs of the business class. Because of the Great Depression, conservatism was rejected so violently that it threatened the survival of laissez-faire after World War II, a regulated economy and a truce between business and labor accepted a mutual modus vivendi, resulting in a sort of domestic détente.
Conservatives made a move to put a face to their enemy, the liberal state or just plain Washington. They simplify the war against liberalism by describing the government as a thief for stealing through taxation what they earn. The bureaucrats who run Washington waste your dollars on stupid projects (but it’s not stupid if it’s their project); they are burglars; they tell you how to run your business piling all kinds of regulations on hard-to-understand legalese. When Reagan was elected president one of his most cherished statements was that “the problem is government.”
What is a cynical maneuver by the GOP is to rebel against a government for which it is responsible in creating. Cynicism is its basic core. It is cynical about everything, including the very possibilities of improve- ments through government. It even scoffs at itself and assumes that talking about public interest is suspect as another vehicle by politicians to get to your pocket. Don’t mention government to these people or they become sarcastic, disbelieving, contemptuous and derisive of you.
This cynicism comes in two forms. It pretends to be founded in science in proving that politics is a form of extortion conducted at the expense of businesses. It laughs at the concept of public interest as a liberal make-believe. It accuses bureaucrats and intellectuals as a separate class, using government to exploit other groups in society. From its philosophical perspective, it depicts government as an offense against nature and a force at odds with civil society. It is sad that public attitudes toward government conform more clearly to the cynical view of the Right whose fortunes depend on robust public cynicism toward government.
Conservative anti-government crusades have always angled on what to do about government. Their most cherished dream is to wreck it. The reason it’s still around is not for the conservatives not trying. Their biggest blunder was to shut down government which heralded the re-election of Bill Clinton. The biggest irony was that they wanted this guy booted out of office and diminished, but ultimately reelected him in the process. They ran into a solid brick wall of public sentiment that supports the government to provide them with a secure retirement, guarantee the education of their children, protect the food they eat, the water they drink, the air they breathe, the minimum wage they need to feed and house their families and the safety of their travel. Conservatives view all these negatively as nothing more than exploitation, like keeping wages low, ban labor unions, deregulation, pro-business commissions, giant monopolies and voluntary regulations (an oxymoron)
It is not difficult to read the Chamber of Commerce’s agenda of “less government in business” which translates into deregulation, tax cuts and privatization, and “more business in government” translates to their goal of greater efficiency and less waste (who in his right mind would oppose it). It culminated in the creation of the Grace Commission which had 161 members but only one representative from organized labor. It was an attempt to allow business to investigate government, deplore its incompetence and tell bureaucrats to put their house in order.
A softer version of this came from the Democrats in 1992 on “reinventing government,” using market-based solutions to every problem. But “market-based” meant differently to GWB. He wanted to break up the federal workforce by outsourcing it. His entire administration could be described as looking at business as its customer, replacing social insurance with private savings plan, replace regulations, get partnership between business and government and turn over government operations to the private sector. It didn’t stop them. One of its gurus (Grover Norquist) went a step further on how to invest into politics by using lobbyists. The return on political exploitation can be enormous, up to 163,536% in some instances. Who would want to stay with Democrats when it delivered 5% or 6% growth, which are crumbs compared to what you can get from Republicans. Money gravitates to right-wing pressure groups which have delivered in the past.