As more tea party candidates are winning primaries across the nation, we are beginning to get a glimpse of their view of small government. I have wondered many times what conservatives mean by small government because without a sense of what government would look like after they finish reshaping it, how could you make an intelligent decision whether to support it?  Maybe our favorite programs would be eliminated. Would we be willing to let it go in the name of downsizing government?

Now, I am the first to say that government could be trimmed. I would like to see it operate more efficiently; more lean and mean. As with any large institution, it is not difficult to identify waste, pork, and ineffective programs. Of course, the major problem with the government is that there are 50 states and thousands of counties and cities to accommodate. They all like different things so that someone’s pork is someone else’s butter.  Maybe that is why even conservatives make across the board spending cuts; rarely eliminating or downsizing programs.

However, if the spending and philosophical priorities of the tea party, the new conservatives, are ever enacted into law, this is what I think we will see.  The first glimpse we have suggests that all social safety net programs will be the first to go. Republicans have tried to downsize or eliminate such programs in the past and now the new conservatives may force their hand. I say force their hand because prior attempts have been half-hearted and without enthusiasm.

Social Security would be a thing of the past. The new conservatives are willing to turn the program over to Wall Street in what they call privatizing it. Since they do not talk about eliminating the payroll tax that funds Social Security, I suspect they will enact an individual mandate. Would you have a choice? Could you opt out of the system? They do not address these issues so I suspect you will be mandated to continue your contribution into a retirement account. They will just redirect your money from the government to Wall Street. What happens to all of the people that cannot afford to contribute, such as minimum wage folks, I do not know. I am sure they will not redistribute anyone else’s wealth to fund the poorest of the poor. I suspect we would see the end of the Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs as well.

Unemployment compensation would, most likely, become a distant memory. The new conservatives believe that such payments encourage people not to work so you know this program will also be among the first to disappear. Interestingly, the average unemployment check is $1,280 a month, and that is taxable. If you find that amount enticing, or an allure as John Linder says, to not find a job, then you are already living very low on the hog (A family of four is considered to be below the poverty guideline with a monthly income of $1,837. Unemployment payments are not based on family size). I am sure we will see food stamps disappear along with any other form of welfare programs such as excess food distribution.

Since Republicans have been pushing to provide vouchers to seniors instead of Medicare, it has become obvious that their ultimate goal is to eliminate the Medicare program. Since the vouchers will be government driven, I suspect that the voucher payments will be small and eventually disappear.  Of course, that will mean the end of health insurance for all but wealthy seniors. We will not need death panels because this system would bypass them.

Ultimately, corporations would run the country, or I should say the US Chamber of Commerce. They already have a hefty influence, and with unlimited political contributions, they will have the capacity to buy all branches of government. One could say that elections are already bought because usually the candidate who spends the most money wins. Ironically, every time we buy a product we are funding the corporations to usurp our control over government.

Regulations will be a thing of the past. Industry will be allowed to self-regulate. If it is oil-related, taxpayers will pay for any cleanup but if financial, allowed to collapse. Until it becomes clear which industries will be protected with taxpayer money and which will be left to dangle if they get in trouble, we will just have to wonder. The new conservatives are all over the map on this one.

The conservative slant to free markets and deregulation suggests that business will be given greater latitude to dictate social policy. Rand Paul may have backtracked over his comment about discrimination but the right of business to discriminate is a deeply held belief. Their motto is business should be able to do what business wants without any government interference. I suspect we will see the end of the minimum wage. I wonder what will happen to child labor laws. Are we headed back to the robber barons? Will we lose all of the hard fought worker protections that took decades to implement?

The new conservatives want to base the tax law on consumption, like the Fair Tax or the Value Added Tax, and do away with the income tax. I agree that the former method would make sure that most everyone contributes to the function of government but there is an element of socialism (wealth redistribution) built in to the models that ruin their ideology. The fact that poorer families will be subsidized under either system is socialism. I suspect they do not have a fundamental disagreement with wealth redistribution, just in who implements such a plan.

I have just touched the surface here but I am sure more ideas will come to those who have been listening to the new conservatives. In general, they have slide so far to the right that their ideas transport us into the past, the distant past; not the future. They want to take America back, way back.

Jim Fitzgerald

Jim Fitzgerald

A clinically trained psychologist, Jim had a private practice in Cobb County for almost 30 years. For the last ten years he has been a Professor of Psychology at Goddard College in Plainfield, VT, but lives in the North Georgia Mountains.