Wednesday, August 01, 2007


E.J. Dionne: What's in a Name

E.J. Dionne has a philosophical piece today asking the age-old question: Who's for Big Government?

“One of the most predictable arguments is also one of the most useless: that politics comes down to a choice between being for "big government" or "small government."

Of course, Mr. Dionne also once wrote:

“Winners change the terms and fight back.” Stand Up, Fight Back: Republican Toughs, Democratic Wimps, and the Politics of Revenge: Books: E.J. Dionne

…so in this George Lakoff era, I’m not taking too seriously his discard of the “big government” moniker (I don’t think many pols are afraid of the “small government” tag).

One remarkable feature of today’s column is his reliance – seemingly without question – on Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm for the quotes to make his case:

“Shrewd industrialists who love the free-enterprise system have noticed how "countries that have big-government health care" are at a competitive advantage, Granholm said in a telephone interview, and "they're asking government to help them out."

Who are these “shrewd industrialists” and what COUNTRY obtains a competitive advantage through its big-government health care? Start ticking through the list: Cuba? France? Canada? At the micro level, a company that can shift costs to others is surely in a better competitive position but I can think of no instance where such a strategy similarly translates at the national level. More perplexing is this:

“Granholm argues that the United States is "never going to be the cheapest place to do business," in part because of its high labor and environmental standards relative to many of the emerging economies. She suggests that improving the country's competitive position will require "investing in education, higher education and health care."

A tried but true cliché is to hide your wallet when a politician starts talking about “investing”. How many countries have a greater combined investment in education and health care than ours? That much of it comes from the private sector should not disqualify its inclusion in the equation, even if that means “big government” doesn’t get credit for it.

Mr. Dionne concludes by echoing Ms. Granholm’s call to “…put all that old stuff aside"
- presumably the use of such labels as “big government”. I agree – as long as the concept of an increasing government is discarded with it.

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