To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Monday, June 24, 2024


The Politics Of Cynicism



Republicans admonish government at all levels as bloated, corrupt, and inefficient. In a chanting chorus of Reagan-worshiping rhetoric, they make vague references to federalism to advance their blind, government-hating motif. This pointed, and effective, demagogy may appeal to those who intuitively distrust government, but it cannot survive honest scrutiny.

An interesting point is that Republicans use federalism as an excuse to curb power at the federal level, while repeating ad nauseam that government needs to get out of peoples’ lives at the local level. Perhaps this is an indicator that their federalism argument is simply a pretense; that their aim is merely to shrink government, that shrinking government is their goal per se.

Republicans believe that shrinking government allows people more freedom. Close consideration of the premises of their argument reveals their cynicism of their logic.

We have a democratic system in which elected representatives at all levels are accountable to the people. When elected officials too often act against the will of the people, they lose power, political capital, even their jobs.

The proposition that government can in no way be the solution to our problems is founded upon the cynical premise that constitutional government does not function, that it cannot promulgate the will of the people.

This is what Republicans believe; that the system does not work; that it cannot work; that we should condense it into irrelevance.

We have a duty as citizens of this great country and state to ensure that never occurs.

When they harp on the federal government’s supposed overreach, they cite tyranny as the great evil to be avoided. The states, they cry, are closer to the people and should make the decision whether to provide health care benefits, how much to appropriate for so-called “entitlements,” or how much to give to education. Any witness to Republican practices on the local level can see, however, that their true goal is to gut benefit programs and privatize education through vouchers.

Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Tuttle, recently derided state government as a “huge monster” that spends too much on nonessentials while it should stick to core services.

While Rep. Osborn fails to specify which agencies she thinks are a waste of taxpayer dollars, she iterates her belief that government should spend no more than necessary, and only for core services. Her statement begs the question: what are core services?

As Rep. Osborn phrases it, core services secure “public safety of the citizens, a system of infrastructure to move goods and services, a public education system for a well-educated citizenry, and the caring for of individuals who could truly not care for themselves.”

She berates the “huge monster” [which will presumably eat you and your children] for spending on “everything from public art; television; theatres; museums; superfluous travel for elected officials, agency members and faculty; pet projects; special interests; and even paying individuals to lobby for more money for the agencies.”

Members of Osborn’s own party, including Gov. Mary Fallin herself, have taken advantage of the state to pay for travel costs. While I don’t support that kind of waste, I think it is important to differentiate between that profligacy and the spending that we need.

As for supposedly unnecessary spending, I wonder if Rep. Osborn would return the roughly $1 million she and her husband have received in farm subsidies from the federal government since 1995. I wonder if she would define this spending as “unnecessary” or “core.” Is her husband an individual who “truly cannot care for” himself?

Yes, I discuss funding at two different levels, federal and state, but the Republican philosophy about spending is the same at every level. I am not criticizing farm subsidies. On the contrary, I believe farms and farmers are the backbone of America.

I believe in not only helping people who would starve or suffer through homelessness without that aid, but in working to sustain a robust middle class. Enough with philosophy, I will turn to numbers.

Examining Oklahoma’s budget, Rep. Osborn’s and other Republicans’ complaints seem perplexing. For FY 2012, 34% of the budget is appropriated for education; 20% for health care; 8% transportation; 6% pensions; 7% welfare; interest is 2%; other spending is 11%; protection is 8%. Other spending is broken down into categories like waste management, water supply, fuel and industry, agriculture, etc.

Where does she want to cut spending? There practically is no spending to cut without cutting core services, so the Republicans attack the funding for the Oklahoma Educational Televisions Authority [OETA] and the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority [OSIDA]. This way they claim they’re taming the government beast, but are only slashing .006% [OETA] and .0006% [OSIDA] of the budget.

All right, I can get on board with Republicans about OSIDA, but I support funding for OETA. Regardless, cutting them both would do almost nothing for our budget.

Furthermore, Rep. Osborn accuses the government of paying agencies to lobby for more money at the Capitol. This is a distortion. The agencies do not pay lobbyists, although they have liaisons at the Capitol to keep dialogue between themselves and lawmakers. This may seem like splitting hairs, but there is a difference: lobbyists advocate for companies that may or may not have the public interest in mind.

Liaisons for agencies, however, work for entities created by the democratic process to serve the people. Maintaining open communication between the agencies and policymakers is an important function, and facilitates more effective service to the people of Oklahoma. Agency experts provide legislators with much of the crucial information that they use to make decisions.

One thing is clear from the tax and budget debates: no one thinks we should cut “core services.” Disagreement arises from what we call a “core service.”

Rep. Osborn listed services she thinks are “core” and farm subsidies are not on that list. Maybe she thinks they should be saved, maybe not. As this article illustrates, many recipients of government aid bite the hand that feeds them.

Does Rep. Osborn feel guilty about all the government handouts she and her husband received? Maybe someone should tell her that the best way to get the government off your back is to get your hands out of its pockets.

On the other hand, if she likes government benefits like farm subsidies, perhaps she should get off the government’s back. Government can be the solution to our problems if the people in charge drop the politics of cynicism and consider how best to serve the people they represent.

Ed Cannaday, a Porum Democrat, represents District 15 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives


Arnold Hamilton
Arnold Hamilton
Arnold Hamilton became editor of The Observer in September 2006. Previously, he served nearly two decades as the Dallas Morning News’ Oklahoma Bureau chief. He also covered government and politics for the San Jose Mercury News, the Dallas Times Herald, the Tulsa Tribune and the Oklahoma Journal.