5:15 PM Eastern - Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Reconciling the Bath Tub with the Oil Spill

"You can't have government small enough to drown in a bathtub and big enough to pull your behind out of a flooded river."

That's a direct quote from my new, favorite state representative, Ann Mah of Topeka, Kansas.

State Rep. Mah was cleverly pointing out the flawed logic of those seeking cuts to government services that are, um, really really important. Like putting out fires. Teaching our kids. Helping people find jobs. With or without spending cuts, Americans continue to require these services from their government.

A recent New York Times/CBS poll of Tea Party activists found that while people railed against government spending, when it got down to specifics, they actually supported these programs. Writes the New York Times:

...in follow-up interviews, Tea Party supporters said they did not want to cut Medicare or Social Security -- the biggest domestic programs, suggesting instead a focus on "waste."

Some defended being on Social Security while fighting big government by saying that since they had paid into the system, they deserved the benefits.

Others could not explain the contradiction.

"That's a conundrum, isn't it?" asked Jodine White, 62, of Rocklin, Calif. "I don't know what to say. Maybe I don't want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security." She added, "I didn't look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I've changed my mind."

But it's not just Tea Party members who excel in cognitive dissonance. Lawmakers do it, too. One example is the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In his column in yesterday's Washington Post, Dana Milbank noted the many contradictions by many Southern lawmakers now seeking government assistance:

About 10:30 Monday morning, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), an ardent foe of big government, posted a blog item on his campaign Web site about the huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. "I strongly believe BP is spread too thin," he wrote.

The poor dears. He thinks it would be a better arrangement if "federal and state officials" would do the dirty work of "protecting and cleaning up the coast" instead of BP.

About an hour later came word from the Pentagon that Alabama, Florida and Mississippi -- all three governed by men who once considered themselves limited-government conservatives -- want the federal government to mobilize (at taxpayer expense, of course) more National Guard troops to aid in the cleanup.

...For the moment, some of the conservatives have new appreciation for governmental powers.

It's funny how that works. We hate government until we need government. It's kind of an abusive relationship - only, it's one we're having with ourselves. As President Obama noted in a commencement speech for students at the University of Michigan last week, "government is us."

"[What] we should be asking is not whether we need 'big government' or a 'small government,' but how we can create a smarter, better government...It should give you the tools you need to succeed. Our government shouldn't try to guarantee results, but it should guarantee a shot at opportunity for every American who's willing to work hard."

Here at SEIU, our members are already tackling the challenge of making government better and smarter. We've launched an initiative that implements solutions for cutting waste from our system.

SEIU members have joined this conversation, and we'd like to invite state and federal lawmakers to join us. It's time to stop proposing senseless cuts to vital public services - and to start finding smarter, more efficient ways of serving our communities.

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