The Truth, Mainly - 02/27/1995

Rules for dismantling government
by Leon Satterfield

I once watched a fight. The guy on the bottom told the guy on the top, "Let me up and I'll kill you." The guy on the top was not moved by that rhetoric. It was admirably clear and concise, but it somehow didn't persuade; it failed to point out how the proposal might be in the top guy's interest.

I was reminded of that failed rhetoric last week when I read about John Breslow's remarks to the Benson Women's Republican Club.

Since he switched parties in November, our State Auditor's seen the light. He now agrees with Newt that we should stop funding public radio and television.

He apparently came to that realization just after the Democrat scales dropped from his eyes and he saw that "we need to dismantle government."

Then he let slip the news that he's been asked him to run for governor.

There was nothing in the AP account about Mr. Breslow snorting in derision at the prospect. There was nothing about the audience laughing itself silly.

Apparently nobody in the room saw anything funny about a grown man saying almost in the same breath that he wants to dismantle government and he's thinking about running for governor.

Even children watching Sesame Street on public television are able to point out "which one of these things doesn't belong."

"Elect me to your government and I'll dismantle it" is the rhetorical equivalent of "Let me up and I'll kill you." And it's become a very fashionable way of getting elected.

Agreeing to either proposal seems oddly perverse.

As perverse as hiring a mechanic because he's so concerned about air pollution that he promises to dismantle your car when all you want is a tune-up. As perverse as hiring a football coach because he's so concerned about how the game threatens to destroy intelligent barbershop conversation that he promises to dismantle the team when all you want is a backfield that stays out of jail.

Come up with your own examples. It's fun.

So why don't we hoo-haw when politicians say we should elect them to run a government so that they can dismantle it?

If they really mean it, it would as gaudy a spectacle as a captain setting fire to his new yacht. But of course they don't really mean it. A governor elected to dismantle government must always be careful or he might dismantle himself. And if he dismantled himself, who would dismantle the others?

Dismantling government is a partial and delicate business. There are tricks. The biggest trick is to avoid dismantling what 51 percent of your constituents think is necessary government, or what Heavy Cash finds profitable about government. In cases of disagreement between constituents and Heavy Cash, constituents must always lose.

The fundamental rule of dismantling is that you may always dismantle welfare for the poor, but you may never dismantle welfare for the rich. Naive candidates at first find that inconsistent. But Heavy Cash quickly shows them the light—good and hard.

Thus we can tell Heavy Cash if it comes to our state, its employees must pay income taxes. But they pay them to Heavy Cash instead of to the state.

So you may dismantle capital gains taxes, graduated income taxes, and the minimum wage, not because it's good for the 51 percent but because it's profitable for Heavy Cash. And Heavy Cash will confuse the 51 percent about what's up.

Heavy Cash will also confuse the 51 percent so they won't object to the dismantling of the Food and Drug Administration. It's on the dismantling table because it slows down the Heavy Cash flow of the pharmaceuticals.

You may dismantle anything helping minorities, because minorities by definition are not 51 percent, and hardly any of them are on speaking terms with Heavy Cash. Ditto public radio and television. Ditto aid to dependent children, Headstart, the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, school lunches, school breakfasts, and school buses.

But you may not dismantle that part of government that feeds the military-industrial complex—which has its picture next to "Heavy Cash" in the dictionary.

And you may not dismantle government subsidies to the tobacco industry, because the tobacco industry has Jesse Helms. Jesse Helms is both Heavy Cash and 51 percent. All by himself.

Are we all clear about that now?

Some dismantlers call what they're doing "devolution." That's evolution running backwards, a reversion to a more primitive life form. Something earlier than, say, 1789, when we wrote into the Constitution all that naive talk about forming a more perfect union, establishing justice, and promoting the general welfare—instead of the welfare of the Heavy Cash.

The Constitution. Now there's a government intrusion a dismantler could really get his dismantling teeth into.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.

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