The Era of “The Era of Big Government Is Over” Is Over

Bill Scher

Interesting word we’ve been hearing on the campaign trail: government.

Last week while campaigning in the “red” state of Georgia, Sen. Barack Obama took a swipe at McCain for not believing in government oversight of the financial industry. From USA Today:

“Like the president he hopes to succeed, Sen. McCain does not believe the government has a real role to play in protecting Americans from unscrupulous lending practices,” Obama said in remarks before a few thousand people in a high school gymnasium outside of Atlanta. “He would continue to allow the banks and credit card companies to tilt the playing field in their favor, at the expense of hardworking Americans.”

Then after McCain economic adviser Phil Gramm called America a “nation of whiners” for not celebrating the economy, Obama saw it as an opportunity to promote a robust role for our government. From the Associated Press:

“It’s not just a figment of your imagination,” Obama said. “Let’s be clear. This economic downturn is not in your head.”

“It isn’t whining to ask government to step in and give families some relief,” he said, drawing a standing ovation from the nearly 3,000 people in a high school gymnasium.

But it’s not just Obama talking up government. Sen. John McCain, in an interview with The New York Times, saw the need to reassure voters that his conservatism was of the “compassionate” sort:

“I believe less governance is the best governance, and that government should not do what the free enterprise and private enterprise and individual entrepreneurship and the states can do, but I also believe there is a role for government,” Mr. McCain said. He added: “Government should take care of those in America who can not take care of themselves.”

This approach is in line with McCain’s general campaign rhetoric: talk anti-government to conservatives, talk up government to moderates, don’t worry if the final product sounds coherent or not.

But the point remains, McCain does not feel he can win swing voters without some embrace of an active role for our government to get America back on track.

He is not alone in the Republican party. As yesterday’s strong veto override vote, scaling back the failing partial privatization of Medicare, shows, many Republican officeholders concerned about re-election are seeing the value of supporting government.

When President Bill Clinton declared “The era of big government is over,” it appeared to usher in a new era in which politicians would always feel compelled to stress their skepticism of government in order to win.

Now that is the era which is clearly over.

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