WPost: The Midterms and ‘Big Government’

Sunday’s Washington Post (10/10/10) featured a story by Jon Cohen and Dan Balz that led with this claim:

If there is an overarching theme of election 2010, it is the question of how big the government should be and how far it should reach into people’s lives.

The piece is actually an explanation of the results of a new poll conducted by the Post along with the Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University. As Dean Baker noted (10/10/10), “There is absolutely nothing in this article that supports this assertion.” He is correct. The Post‘s report deals with the supposedly conflicted nature of public opinion, where people complain about the performance of the federal government but then also express strong support for certain government programs. Even this seems a tad oversold;one can very easily think highly of Social Security and believe in additional government spending to spur the economy while also having little confidence “in the government’s ability to solve problems.”

So why is there this “big government” framing of the issue, then? Baker points out that certain politicians benefit from it:

There are no candidates anywhere in the country who are running in support of  “big government,” there are candidates who are running in support of programs which have varying degrees of support. There are many candidates (virtually all Republicans) who are running against “big government.” While this position has nothing to do with the world (we all oppose waste, fraud and abuse; the question is always the status of specific programs), it is certainly helpful to the Republicans to have the election framed in this way.

And in his column today (New York Times, 10/11/10) , Paul Krugman helpfully pushes back against this entire theme:

Here’s the narrative you hear everywhere: President Obama has presided over a huge expansion of government, but unemployment has remained high. And this proves that government spending can’t create jobs.

Here’s what you need to know: The whole story is a myth. There never was a big expansion of government spending. In fact, that has been the key problem with economic policy in the Obama years: We never had the kind of fiscal expansion that might have created the millions of jobs we need.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.