Asheville, NC   Tuesday, January 22, 2008   8:04 AM
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by Charles M. Kelly, Guest commentary
published January 22, 2008 12:15 am

Bill Steigerwald’s commentary, “Ron Paul’s victory,” (AC-T, Jan. 2), was a revival of Ronald Reagan’s famous appeal to disenchanted voters: “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” It’s the same right-wing strategy Richard Darman revealed in his book “Who’s in Control.”

Darman, a Republican who served under Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush Sr., described Newt Gingrich’s game plan: “In his cheerful, confident, radical, professorial way, Gingrich explained that to do what he wanted, government first had to be completely discredited — ethically, programmatically, managerially, philosophically. ... Once Washington-based government was totally discredited, hard-right conservatives could then sweep to power.”


The right-wing attempt to equate freedom with a lack of government suggests a false premise and detracts from a rational discussion of society’s problems. Fact is, all societies are always governed all the time. The issue isn’t government or no government, big government or small government — it’s good vs. bad government. It’s who’s governing, how did they get their power, in whose interests are they governing, and what are the results of their governing?

Today’s classic example is Iraq. If its democratically elected government is unwilling or unable to govern effectively, then competing militia groups seize control and govern according to their own powers and desires. A nation in chaos is still a governed society. It’s just by the wrong people, for the wrong purposes, and with disastrous consequences.

“Big government” didn’t fail in handling the aftermath of hurricane Katrina; bad government failed. Big government didn’t successfully handle the results of hurricane Andrew; good government succeeded.

If there is a lesson to be learned here, it is that we had better elect politicians to government who actually believe in government, and who will appoint qualified managers to powerful leadership positions, rather than unqualified cronies.

Solutions, too

So, yes, government is often the cause of our major problems, but it is often the solution as well. Government is the cause of our problems when, for example, it chooses to ignore or even distort the science behind global warming. But only an informed and active government can be the catalyst for solving the problem of excessive greenhouse gases.

When George W. Bush assumes powers previously held by the courts or a democratically elected Congress, he’s not relieving the public of excessive government; he’s just transferring governing power to himself. That could possibly be OK if he’s wise and right, but it’s horribly bad if he’s arrogant and wrong.

Right-wing conservatives represent those who want to use their money and power to govern society in their own interests. To the extent that they can make government absent or ineffective in our society, they can step in and control (govern) conditions affecting us all.

Some examples? If government doesn’t set minimum environmental standards, corporations do. If government doesn’t set work safety and minimum wage standards, corporations do. If government doesn’t adequately fund public schools, road maintenance, crime and fire prevention with taxes, they degenerate. And so on, for virtually every major issue in our society.

Which kind of freedom do you prefer? The freedom of corporations to dominate the market by ruthlessly cutting labor costs (by going to countries where they know workers can be freely brutalized)? Or, the freedom of corporations that respect workers’ rights to compete on a level playing field? When government doesn’t take a stand, it’s always the former.

Proactive leadership

Sure, government can pass some stupid legislation and waste taxpayer dollars. But not passing enough of the right legislation and not raising enough taxes to solve society’s problems and, especially, to prevent future problems — can be even worse. Incidentally, preventing future problems is far more cost efficient than waiting for a situation to evolve into a crisis, and is called proactive, vs. reactive, leadership.

The anti-government argument suggests that we’d be better off by getting government out of the business of governing, increasing the ability of powerful private interests to set standards and make the rules, and doggedly cutting taxes, primarily for the rich. Those are the last things we need, as the Bush administration has made perfectly clear.

Charles M. Kelly, Ph.D., is a retired management consultant living in Burnsville and author of “The Destructive Achiever; Power and Ethics in the American Corporation,” and “Class War in America.” He can be reached at

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