Most Americans Are Closeted Big Government Spenders

When we're asked whether or not we want to cut spending, a plurality of Americans want to slash away. But when we get specific, our preference is to keep spending -- by wide margins. And when I write "wide," I mean chasm-wide. Huge.
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Early Thursday, a fax arrived at the Capitol Hill office of Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN). In addition to an extraordinarily racist cartoon of President Obama being dragged with a noose behind a pick-up truck, the fax accused McCollum of being a Marxist, followed by the terrorist threat: "Death to all Marxists foreign and domestic." McCollum immediately reported the note to the Capitol Police who are currently investigating its origin.

Why, specifically, did this domestic terrorist deliver such an awful note to McCollum? The "re:" in the fax quoted a news item about McCollum voicing her opposition to the Pentagon spending taxpayer money on NASCAR sponsorships.

So while accusing McCollum of being a Marxist, this would-be assassin was actually endorsing government spending, with so much gusto, in fact, that he or she employed the harshest language imaginable including the oddly-spelled obscenity "phucking" as a means of underscoring his or her pro-spending agenda. (Weird that a cartoon depicting the president being dragged by a noose was morally permissible, but the traditional spelling of "fucking" was too indecent.)

At its core, the fax was all about supporting wealth redistribution: the redistribution of your tax dollars to NASCAR events. Put another way, this self-contradictory assassin is actually more of a Marxist than McCollum, who actually wants to end frivolous government spending on, you know, stock car races.

Bigotry, profanity and domestic terrorism aside, the person who delivered that fax to Rep. McCollum isn't too dissimilar from most Americans. A supermajority of us are big government spenders and socialists in denial.

Nevertheless, there's a slash-and-burn anti-spending virus spreading through just about every political sphere, from the White House to Congress to Republican governors.

Before we get into it, let's go back to us.

In the broadest sense, we say we want to cut spending. According to a new Pew poll, 49 percent of us would rather cut spending to reduce the deficit, while 41 percent of us would rather increase spending to help grow the economy.

However, if we break down government spending, policy-by-policy, those numbers fall apart. It's not unlike the paradox of political self-identification. On the surface, Americans appear to be center-right, just like the very serious journalists and pundits enjoy repeating on television and in the op-ed section of the Washington Post. To be fair, there are polls to back up this generalization. But the polls are inaccurate, or, rather, they don't tell a complete story. When Americans are asked to self-identify with a political ideology, most of us say we're "conservative," and very few of us self-identify as "liberal." Well, okay. This is partly because "liberal" has been so brutally stigmatized over the last 40 years -- pollsters might as well ask if respondents are "conservative" or "flamboyantly un-American." However, when we're polled issue-by-issue, the results show that we're considerably more liberal than conservative. We're pro-choice, we support laws restricting gun ownership, we support cleaning up the environment, we're anti-war, we support same-sex marriage, we support higher taxes for the rich, and so forth.

Similarly, when we're asked whether or not we want to cut spending, a plurality of Americans want to slash away. But when we get specific, our preference is to keep spending -- by wide margins. And when I write "wide," I mean chasm-wide. Huge.

In the same Pew poll, 62 percent of Americans want to increase education spending. Only 11 percent want to cut education spending. Combined with those who want to leave education spending as-is, 87 percent support it. This massive disparity plays out all across the board. 71 percent of Americans want to increase or to continue health care spending at the same levels. Only 24 percent want to cut it. Only 26 percent want to cut spending on environmental protection. I can go on and on. Only 12 percent want to cut Social Security. Only 21 percent want to cut infrastructure. Only 23 percent want to cut scientific research. Only 28 percent want to cut unemployment benefits.

Most of us embrace government spending, but we're afraid to admit it.

According to another study by Cornell's Suzanne Mettler, many Americans don't even realize they're relying upon government services. 53 percent of those who said they're not using a government program borrowed a student loan from the government. 44 percent are on Social Security. 39 percent are on Medicare (reinforcing the imperative: "Keep your government hands off my Medicare!"). 27 percent are on Medicaid. 28 percent are on Disability. 41 percent are receiving veteran's benefits. Again, these are people who also insist they're absolutely not "living off the public tit," to quote Senator Chuck Grassley. But they are.

Yet New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is cutting everything that he can't reasonably chew. And he's applauded for it by the GOP and their media shills. Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan is cutting education spending by $470 per student at the K-12 level, and university budgets by 15 percent.

Meanwhile, the House Republicans want to cut a long list of crucial government programs. Paul Krugman detailed the extent of the Republican budget cuts including, among other items, $899 million cut from renewable energy spending, $1.1 billion cut from the science budget (remember: only 23 percent of Americans want to cut science programs) and $648 million cut from the nuclear nonproliferation budget -- that's more than half-a-billion dollars cut from a program tasked with keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. Seriously, Republicans? They also want to cut $1.2 billion from FEMA, $489 million from Homeland Security and $900 million from the Centers for Disease Control. Absolutely staggering. And dovetailing with what I wrote last week about the Republican War Against Women, the Republicans want to cut $1 billion from WIC: a program that provides food for pregnant women. How can they still call themselves the "pro-life party" and the party of "national security" -- the "tough on terrorism" party -- and not see the ridiculous irony in such obviously inappropriate self-descriptions?

Show me a poll that indicates anything close to a plurality of support for these kinds of indiscriminate cuts and maybe I'll reconsider writing that the Republicans are out of their gourds -- at the very least, they're laughably out of step with a vast majority of Americans.

Throughout the previous decade, we scarcely heard the words "deficit" or "debt" so much as whispered by the Republicans. But suddenly, after they've racked up a record deficit and when federal spending is precariously keeping the economy from sliding back into another recession, they want to cut everything in sight -- except for programs that benefit the super wealthy. And, at the same time, they refuse to support programs like infrastructure spending that will create millions of new jobs and $1.57 in economic growth for every $1 spent; a public option for health care and the option of negotiating prescription drug prices for Medicare, both of which the CBO says will reduce the deficit; and, naturally, a mere two-percent tax increase on the wealthiest Americans. Instead, they'd rather cut food for pregnant women, while also risking a double-dip recession. They're all in favor of redistribution of wealth to the wealthy, but they go full Red Scare on anyone who suggests helping middle and working class Americans or, for that matter, growing the economy.

The sooner we wise up and realize our state of denial, the sooner we'll listen again to reasonable people who are better stewards of the government and the economy. And in order to get there, we need to willingly embrace the reality that we prefer government spending and that most of us are, in some way, socialists.

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