Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Grover Norquist, you've been framed!

And I don't mean framed as in "set up to take the fall for something you didn't do." No, I mean framed as in "had your signature framing of small-vs-big government ripped to shreds by someone who knows how to craft a better frame than yours."
This isn’t about big government or small government. It’s about building a smarter government that focuses on what works.
That was Barack Obama, establishing a new frame for future debates about the kind of government America needs, in remarks announcing Peter Orszag as his pick for the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

For years--decades, even--conservatives have been arguing that government is bloated and wasteful. That it is too big. That what America really needs is less government. Smaller government. Government that, yes, Grover Norquist would like to be able to "drown in a bathtub."

Big-vs-small is a false choice. It's probably one of the slickest straw-man arguments the conservatives have managed to sucker us with ever since Reagan. Because by getting everyone to focus on the meaningless distinction of big versus small, they got everyone to forget about paying attention to just who the government was helping or hindering. Big versus small ignores the reality that a big government that benefits businesses some and the people some is still better for the country than a small government that benefits businesses enormously but gives ordinary citizens the shaft.

Yet as has been all to clear these past eight years especially, benefitting big business with no regard for who gets hurt in the process has been the prime focus of these "small government" advocates. Cutting social programs and infrastructure spending to make more money available for no-bid contracts to their corporate buddies has been their number-one modus operandi. That's the real agenda that Norquist's small government straw man argument has been hiding.

But notice what Obama does here--and I heard him do it again in a press conference this morning--he shifts the debate about government itself to a new frame: smart government that works.

Notice what is implied in that new framing: we can work towards creating a government that is smart and effective, or by implication we can stick with the government we currently have which is stupid and ineffective.

Smart vs. stupid. Effective vs. ineffective. That's the new frame, and of course Obama argues that we should make the obvious choice.

Obama, bless him, is insightful enough to realize that the true choice facing America is whether we continue doing business as usual--which is obviously not working--or whether we restructure government spending to focus on smart strategies that benefit everybody. On effective ways to re-build America from the bottom up.

So the choice is clear: Do you want a smart government that works, or do you want a small government whose sole function is spend the entire national budget on no-bid contracts to big corporations? I'm sure I don't need to answer that question for you.

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