Tuesday, April 21, 2020


In The Washington Post, Paul Waldman writes:
We are in the midst of the most significant national crisis most of us will ever see. By the time it’s over, Americans’ feelings about government will be transformed, as they come to understand that the question isn’t whether government should be “big” or “small” but whether it can do its job well and create security and opportunity.

Or this crisis will change very little, and a year or two from now we’ll be right back where we started, with all the weaknesses and pathologies we had before, as we find ourselves in the midst of a new conservative attack on government that succeeds in making us less secure and more unequal....

Democrats, I fear, are assuming that this crisis will naturally prove them right about the role of government, and they don’t actually have to do much for their vindication to occur.

“I think it could be paradigm shifting,” former Federal Reserve chair Janet L. Yellen tells The Post’s Dan Balz, and many Democrats surely agree. Republicans are being forced to accept trillions of dollars in government spending to rescue the economy, as well as the shared assumption that it’s government’s job to make sure we don’t all get sick and die.
People who think in poli-sci categories believe that ordinary citizens also think in poli-sci categories. But most Americans don't regard themselves as either believers in activist government or believers in laissez-faire government, just as they don't see themselves as interventionists or isolationists on foreign policy. They favor one side or the other when it suits them.

Right-wingers were interventionist when George W. Bush wanted to invade Iraq, then they weren't when Barack Obama wanted to intervene in Syria. Under Donald Trump, they're as confused as the president is -- they back him when he says he wants to withdraw from global commitments and they back him when he rattles sabers at Iran.

Similarly, voters like the domestic government interventions they like and dislike the ones they don't. "Small government" conservatives love Social Security, Medicare, and, at least for themselves and their families, Medicaid. They're happily accepting their $1200 checks during the coronavirus outbreak. Among non-conservatives, many people didn't like Obamacare until, gradually, they came to appreciate it. Would they like a single-payer system? They might not. Or they might not at first, and then they might like it.

Most Americans would probably be thrilled if the feds were efficiently improving access to tests, ventilators, and personal protective equipment, all while ramping up contact tracing and doing a better job of easing economic concerns. They're certainly expressing strong levels of approval for governors whose coronavirus efforts are activist. But it's quite possible that, apart from the crisis, many of these same people will enthusiastically respond to "shrink the government" rhetoric and vote against activist politicians -- and never regard these attitudes as contradictory.

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