Mellman: ‘Big Government’ Republicanism
Last week, Republicans denounced Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) as he played Vladimir Putin’s “useful idiot.”
But disdain for fundamental Republican principles infects DeSantis’s approach to domestic issues as well.
For decades, the underlying premise of Republicans’ approach to policy has been “small government.” Big government was the enemy, while a less powerful, less intrusive government was the goal.
This year’s GOP nominating process will likely feature the biggest “big government” Republican imaginable.
One might even argue that DeSantis supports a bigger, more powerful, more intrusive federal government than any serious presidential candidate in either party, with the exceptions of avowed socialists Eugene V. Debbs at the turn of the 20th century and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today.
There have always been points of hypocrisy in the Republican agenda, notably on abortion, to which we’ll return below.
But DeSantis’s views represent an all-out assault on small government and the total embrace of a massively powerful and intrusive government, complete with unelected bureaucrats making key decisions about the economy, schools and medicine.
The GOP approach to the economy has long echoed capitalist ideology. Letting investors make their own decisions about how to allocate their capital, they maintain, is the surest way to the greatest prosperity for the largest number.
DeSantis says “no.” He’s going to decide which criteria investors can and cannot employ in making those decisions.
Research has long made clear that more diverse teams make better decisions than less diverse teams. But DeSantis says businesses should not provide that kind of information and investors should not be allowed to use it.
A survey last year by ROKK Solutions and Penn State University’s Center for the Business of Sustainability found 67 percent opposed government limits on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investments. In line with their small-government philosophy, Republicans were even more likely to oppose the DeSantis approach, by 70 percent.
Now, there is research purporting to show that businesses with high ESG scores are not more remunerative investments. But that’s capitalism: You pay your money, you take your chance, and, in the end, whoever is right reaps a greater reward.
Education is another area where Republicans have fought hard for local control.
The relationship between federal, state and local school authorities is complex and varies by state.
But DeSantis wants to upend local control of schools and dictate what they can and cannot teach, even what words can be used.
Unelected bureaucrats under his authority banned over 40 percent of the math textbooks they considered — not because they didn’t teach math well, but rather because they thought DeSantis would disapprove of their politics — the politics of math books!
In debating legislation similar to DeSantis’s “don’t say gay bill,” Missouri Republican state Rep. Phil Christofanelli noted Martha Washington would likely be cut out of the classroom as explaining she was George’s wife would, under the Missouri law, illegally describe her sexual orientation.
Another example of a massive, intrusive government that Americans, including Republicans, don’t want: A YouGov poll last month found that most Americans wanted parents and/or teachers to have the greatest authority over curricula. Who did people not want to exercise curricular control? Governors and state legislators. Again, it was Republicans who were most opposed to state politicians making judgments about curricula.
Then there’s the issue of abortion, a most personal decision that should be made by women with their doctors and families.
DeSantis wants government to substitute his judgment on this issue for that of women and doctors, banning nearly all abortions.
In polls and referenda across the country, Americans have made clear that they do not perceive this as the proper purview of government.
It’s big, intrusive government, no matter how you look at it.
Obviously, Republicans can choose to reject their small-government heritage.
But abandoning the distinction between the parties on the size of government means the question in the general election will not be, “Who is for bigger and who’s for smaller government?”
Instead, voters will have to ask themselves, “What do I want big government to focus on, providing jobs, health care and child care, or dictating business investment decisions, school textbooks and abortion?”
I haven’t polled it, but I can make a good guess as to the result.
Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 U.S. senators, 12 governors and dozens of House members. Mellman served as pollster to Senate Democratic leaders for over 20 years, as president of the American Association of Political Consultants, and is president of Democratic Majority for Israel.
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