Republicans have been running against “government” at least since Ronald Reagan‘s 1980 presidential campaign. Willard Romney fired the latest salvo in the Republican War On Government last Friday when he stated that we should not have “more firemen, more policemen, more teachers,” as President Obama wants, but rather, we should “get the message of Wisconsin” (referring to Governor Scott Walker‘s victory in his recent recall election) and “cut back” on these essential public servants. Some pundits called Romney’s statement a “gaffe”, and even Governor Walker, who targeted public employee unions in Wisconsin after taking office, disagreed with Romney.
Apparently, Romney’s gaffe was in going from the general Republican talking point (attacking “government” or “unions”) to the specific (targeting teachers, cops and firefighters, many of whom are beloved in their communities, for firing). California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger learned a similar lesson in his first year of office, and the rest of his time as Governor was doomed. The lesson is that a good talking point, which can be made in the most general terms, does not always translate to a successful specific policy. This indicates that, when Republicans spew the usual talking points attacking “government” and “government workers”, we should put Republicans on the spot by asking them which specific programs and which specific workers they would cut.
Ask Republicans whether they want their children to be stuck in larger classrooms as a result of firing teachers.
Ask Republicans whether they want fewer firefighters to be around, or for firefighters to respond later to a fire alarm because they have to travel farther due to cuts.
Ask Republicans whether they want fewer cops on the street to protect them and their loved ones.
And while we’re at it, we should:
Ask Republicans whether they are ready to give up their Medicare.
Ask Republicans whether the pills they pop should not be tested or inspected before being brought to market.
Ask Republicans whether they want to cut back on good roads, bridges, and dams.
Ask Republicans whether they like having their electricity go on every time they turn on their light switches, television sets, and computers.
Ask Republicans whether they like having their children breathe clean air and drink clean water, both of which are ensured by our public servants at the EPA and elsewhere.
Ask Republicans whether they believe that airline passengers and their baggage should not be subject to screening at the airport before boarding an airplane.
Ask all of this in public, in media appearances and elsewhere. Ask it on the spot, as a direct response in an interview or discussion setting, if possible.
Or try this: next time you’re having a meal with a Republican who rails against “the government”, ask them, right when they put their fork in their mouth, why they feel that the very food they are eating and beverage they are drinking are safe, and whether they would like to fire the very people responsible for inspecting that food and drink.
There’s a good chance that, when put on the spot on the very specifics of “government” and our public servants, Republicans won’t be able to get away with their general anti-government talking points quite as easily.