Montana Voices: Drowning government in an upper-class bathtub

Jim Elliott

Someone once wrote that the only people who are truly free are the very poor and the very rich: the poor because they have nothing and the wealthy because they have everything. From my perspective, considering the way things are going for the middle class, it won’t be too long before all of us are truly free.

Helping to create this surge of freedom are people like Grover Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform (and curiously enough, the Islamic Free Trade Institute), who said, “I want to shrink government to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”

The way to accomplish that, of course, is to starve government by cutting off its food supply — taxes — and waiting for the self-fulfilling prophecy to come to fruition. When government agencies’ budgets are cut — but not the workload — it makes it more difficult for that agency to do the job it’s supposed to do. That creates dissatisfaction among the public and lends seeming credence to those who say, “I told you so, government can’t do the job so private enterprise should.”

If you want an example, take a look at the U. S. Postal Service, once the best postal delivery system in the world, which has had its funding drained away to the point where there is now some justification to the claim that the private sector could run it better.

Of course, if you cut taxes to starve government, that money doesn’t just disappear, it has to go somewhere, and where it seems to go is back into the pockets of the very wealthy through tax breaks.

Coincidentally or not, it is the very wealthy who need government less than the rest of America.

Abraham Lincoln said, “The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but can not do at all, or can not so well do, for themselves – in their separate, and individual capacities.”

Today, not everyone is a part of that community Lincoln was talking about. There are very wealthy people who can do things by themselves either because of their money or the political power that money gives them. They don’t need a public safety program because they can live in gated communities and hire their own police forces. They do not need government-funded health insurance because they have their own medical personnel on contract. It is the rest of the people who need government.

To take the concept of Grover Norquist’s smaller, bathtub-drowned government to its logical conclusion, we then have no police system, no courts, no transportation system, no military, no nothing. That would create an America where there are two groups of people, one being a small number of very wealthy people taking care of their own needs very nicely, thank you, and then the rest of America trying to function in a state of near lawless anarchy.

While the ultra-wealthy plutocracy does exist, (billionaire Elon Musk has his own space ship program, for goodness sake) the potential for America dissolving into anarchy is thankfully losing steam. Witness the rebellion against crippling tax cuts in Kansas where the Republican legislature recently overrode the governor’s veto of a tax increase.

The needs of middle class Americans, what is left of us, are best fulfilled by responsible government, as the citizens of Kansas have shown.

Back to Lincoln: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of people all of the time.”

Jim Elliott served sixteen years in the Montana Legislature as a state representative and state senator and four years as chairman of the Montana Democratic Party. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek.