Written by Dylan Brody
The Reagan era produced a cultural belief that government is inherently bad and that big government is inherently worse than small government. This sounded like it made sense when it came out in warm, condescending grandfatherly tones from an apple-cheeked old actor-cum-politician but ultimately the fallacy becomes apparent.
The truth is, the whole point of creating a United States rather than a Loose Affiliation of Sovereign States was that there are things a centralized government can accomplish that several competing and feuding governments cannot. At the start, of course, it was about throwing off British rule and the life of colonial fealty to a distant monarch. Over time, our nation found other benefits to being a single country under a centralized government. We were able to build commercial and economic resources in ways that made us a world power. As a country we have been able to exploit innovation as it has occurred from the cotton gin to the steam engine to the electrical distribution system and space exploration. We have grown more inclusive in terms of our own governance and economic participation, abolishing slavery, accepting women as full citizens and disallowing discrimination based on race or religion. The seven day work week, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, a public education system, child labor laws, great, hard-won accomplishments, all of which came to be under the single banner that flies above all the state flags in our Union.
Our very mythology, reaching back into pre-American feudal society, revolves around the value of big, centralized government. When King Arthur came into power, according to the legend, England was a divided land, a place of tribal rivalries and small kingdoms vying for power and warring for land. Then, under Pendragon’s banner, all pledged fealty to the single king allowing Arthur to bring peace to the land. Granted, this was still a feudal vision of governance, but it was a start toward movement away from segmented government.
Later, when the tales of Robin Hood emerged, our hero was an outlaw. King Richard, under whom England had been a peaceful and unified place, had gone off to fight a war in the Middle East. He left his brother, Prince John to see over the country, but John allowed things to slide into division and chaos. Thus a mere Sheriff took control of Nottingham, overtaxed the locals for his own benefit and terrorized the local peasantry. It was this injustice that Robin found on returning from war. It was this injustice that Robin fought by stealing from the rich oppressors and giving to the poor whose livelihoods had been lost in the careless and expensive rush to war.
It is not by accident that when Newt Gingrich wanted to discredit President Obama in the eyes of Republican voters he referred to him as “a Robin Hood socialist.” Newt and the modern Republican party have wandered so far off the path of basic human progress that they can look at the Robin Hood legend and comfortably identify with the Sheriff. Robin was doing all he could to help those in need in the absence of King Richard – the much-needed hand of big government personified.
Capitalism, our economic structure and representative Democracy, our structure of governance both evolved from Feudalism. As they evolve further, Capitalism looks more like Socialism as the government strives to protect those most in need of protection and representative Democracy comes to look more like true Democracy as more people find themselves empowered to have voice in the process. This is not a bad evolutionary path, unless of course, you happen to think feudalism would have worked better were it not for all that annoying noblesse oblige. Then it becomes necessary to vilify the very ideals that brought us this far.
So, in the minds of the post-Reagan Republican Party, Robin Hood is the bad guy. Big government is evil. States should be independent sovereign entities. Efforts to help the poor, the disabled, and the disenfranchised must be disavowed as Socialist with no consideration given to the actual meaning of the word, only the implication that it is somehow connected to Communism, Totalitarianism and Fascism. Thus human decency itself is cast as a weakness, an evil eating away at the soul of the rugged American individual.
Texas blusters about wanting to secede from the Union because it does not like the President the nation elected as Federal funds flow into the storm-ravaged east coast. The Federal Government seeks to make healthcare available to every American citizen as Sheriff Arpaio runs his little prison camp with an iron fist.
It is time to let go of this idea that without centralized government, every community would run itself peacefully. The fact is, we are all a half-inch away from devolving into fractious, regional mobs. We need centralized government. We need a government big enough to oversee a huge, powerful, diverse country. We need to learn the darkest, saddest, most important lesson history has to offer: All fascism is local.
About the Author
Dylan Brody writes and performs humorous short stories and whimsical essays in venues around L.A. and across the country. A thrice-published author and award-winning playwright, he has performed stand-up comedy on A & E’s Comedy On the Road and Fox TV’s Comedy Express and recently was honored to present a story at the New York Public Library’s Tribute to George Carlin, hosted by Whoopi Goldberg. Mr Brody’s CDs Brevity and True Enough are available through Amazon.com and iTunes. He lives in Sylmar, CA, a location he describes as “crap neighborhood adjacent.”