These Protests Aren’t Against Big Government, But About Liberals Running the Government


By Joe Campbell
September 14th, 2009

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go [digg-reddit-me]Andrew Sullivan postulates that there is a “silver lining” to the “right’s apoplexy” in that it has moved the Republican Party away from its christianist social policies to a focus on economic libertarianism.

enter site I’m far from convinced by this argument however – as my impression is that the real impetus behind the opposition to Obama isn’t economic as much as cultural. Concern about the size of government and the deficits don’t seem to be strongly related to either the size of government or deficits, but about who is in power. Ronald Reagan ballooned the size of the deficit and enlarged the size of government, yet is beloved by those who now (and in 1992) claimed to be very concerned about the role of government and deficits. George W. Bush had strong support from the right during his term, and I don’t recall any Tea Party Protests during his watch – yet he presided over ridiculous deficits and an expansion of the government in every direction, from national security matters to health care (Medicare Part D) to the financial and automotive sectors to the tens of thousands of small pork projects.

Yet suddenly, a liberal becomes president – a moderate, pragmatic liberal who seems genuinely focused on reducing the mid- and long-term deficits – and Tea Parties erupt to protest all the programs he’s running (which he inherited). It seems outright naive to attribute these protests to a rejuvenation of economic conservatism – especially given the “hot button” issues that arise: government-sponsored (and maybe forced!) abortion and euthanasia and illegal immigrants getting health care. I know that Sullivan isn’t this naive – he’s just looking for the silver lining. But I don’t think one is there.

The protests aren’t about the size of government or its role; they are a viceral response to the fact that a liberal now runs the government. That frustration is rooted in cultural and social issues, rather than economic ones. Which is why deficit politics only becomes powerful when Democrats are in control of the White House.

[Image by Steve Rhodes licensed under Creative Commons.]