In a recent op-ed in the pages of the Washington Post, Newt Gingrich attempts to revive the old playbook of the Reagan Revolution by attempting to argue that a disgruntled electorate will and should seek to elect to power a party that is fundamentally anti-government. Get it? Send anti-government people to Washington. Good plan.
Forgive me - and thousands upon thousands of my countrymen - of some degree of skepticism. It turns out that once the anti-government Party arrived at the punchbowl, they found the brew to their liking. But more: it was discovered that power is fun to wield. They followed the old Polemarchian adage of politics - that the end of politics is to help one's friends and hurt one's enemies.
The same issue of the Washington Post also happened to carry a story about the Obama administration's reversal of the Bush policy of "preemption." Preemption, in this case, does not refer to the "Bush Doctrine" in international affairs, but rather a quiet and largely unremarked upon policy by which the Federal government presumptively and preemptively overturned State-based laws in areas of interest to private business interests. According to one person quoted in the article, "'It's environmental law, it's drug law, it's mortgage law, it's a whole host of areas where the Bush administration was really aggressive about using regulatory action to clear state and local laws that businesses and corporations didn't like,' said Doug Kendall, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center." Federal regulation was regularly, even promiscuously used to overturn legitimate State legislation in areas where private business demanded uniformity for the sake of efficiency, profit, and economies of scale. So much for the idea that the States are the "laboratories of democracy."
So, if we are to believe NEWT, then a vote for the Republican Party will mean a blow struck for anti-government forces. Yet, in point of fact, we see two parties that shamelessly and gleefully use the powers of the central government to advance the particular interests they represent. There is - and, truth be told, can be - no party of "anti-government," only better and worse ways to govern. At the moment we have two parties that are designed to reward that part of the electorate that puts them into power, and in particular powerful and well-financed interests that demand a highly active federal government that successively and unwaveringly increases power to the center.
Still, the anger and frustration that Newt identifies among the electorate is real, and a smart political leader who argued for a government that governs close to home (not simply "anti-government," but the goods and benefits of more local government) - and proposes actual paths and policies to effect that end - I believe would attract a large swath of the electorate. First, however, we need to get beyond the canard that some "party of anti-government" is waiting in the wing. It's time to clean those particular Aegean stables, and Newt's dung should be the first to be washed out.