The Private Abuse of the Public Interest: Market Myths and Policy Muddles

By Lawrence D. Brown; Lawrence R. Jacobs | Go to book overview

5 The Democratic Disconnect
and the Growth of Government

The last three and a half decades offer a political tale of government unceremoniously ushered out the front door of the nation's collective abode only to be quietly readmitted via the back door. In 1968, Richard Nixon successfully campaigned for the presidency with pot shots at the excesses of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society and War on Poverty. Once president, Nixon pledged to end overpromising and to return government to its proper business (Nathan 1975).

In 1980, Ronald Reagan took power with slashing attacks on government, which he portrayed starkly as the problem, not a solution. The magic of the marketplace was the all-purpose answer to America's sundry ills. George H. W. Bush, who could not conceal a wistful longing for a kinder, gentler nation, mouthed this antigovernmental script, but rather less successfully. The man to whom he surrendered the White House, Bill Clinton, advertised himself as a New Democrat (which in health care translated into “third way” innovations like managed competition, not anachronisms such as taxing, spending, and regulating) and in 1996 duly proclaimed that the era of big government was over. In 2000, George W Bush came into office accompanied by a House and Senate dominated by Republicans and a number of philosophically conservative Democrats—cloning Reagan's rhetoric, blasting government, and praising markets.

A Martian monitoring these political developments from afar and privy only to what the nation's leaders said about the relative merits and roles of the private and public sectors would conclude that market forces had indeed put government out to pasture. Po-

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