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Garfield: A love letter to Big Government

First Published Feb 14 2014 11:12 am • Last Updated Feb 14 2014 11:12 am

"Seventy-two percent of Americans say big government is a greater threat to the U.S. in the future than is big business or big labor, a record high in the nearly 50-year history of this question."

— Gallup Organization, Dec. 13, 2013

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You are hulking and awkward, humorless and impatient. You are pathologically regimented and nerdy almost beyond belief. You are penny-wise and pound-freaking-ridiculous. Every now and then your behavior is simply reprehensible. So maybe this is perverse, because also — ewww — you’re my uncle. But I am so in love with you.

Let me count the ways:

You protect me from terrorists and pathogens and pollution and bigots and foreign armies and racketeers. You enforce a semblance of order in the neighborhood and in the marketplace. You finance stuff that I use all the time, more or less for free: bridges, dams, GPS, federal reserve banks, crash-test dummies (indirectly), and Medicare (soon).

You deliver my mail, plus the odd cruise missile.

Not to mention my land-grant-college education and my graphite and titanium golf clubs — dual-use materials researched and developed by you. Stealth fighter shmealth shmighter, we’re talking 30 extra yards off the tee, baby.

Also you invented the Internet, which is soooo great for global communications and last-minute shopping. Meanwhile, you’ve been ticking off items on the ol’ honey-do list. "End slavery," check. "Eradicate polio," check. "Clean Lake Erie," check. "Elvis stamp," thank you very much.

Twice in the past 85 years, from the New Deal to TARP, you saved the world from financial Armageddon. In the 20th century you defeated both fascism and communism — because of, not in spite of, your gigantism. So when the haters mock your size and the size of your heart, it breaks mine. When Newt Gingrich flamed you in his book ("The secular socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did.") it was like seeing you rank last in "Hot or Not." All love, it is said, begins with pity.

Truthfully, this was love at first sight. You didn’t even have to offer Big Bird or Obamacare. You had me at the Louisiana Purchase — a huge federal expenditure guaranteeing westward expansion. Fifteen states emerged, in whole or in part, from that budget-busting, tax-and-spend initiative — all 15 of them red.


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That was a Thomas Jefferson deal. So much for the modest federal aspirations of the founders. In fact, as historian Steven Conn of Ohio State likes to point out, the very first act of Congress after authorizing itself was an economic-stimulus law, Alexander Hamilton’s pet Tariff Act of 1789 protecting domestic manufacturing and paying off debts from the Revolutionary War.

The Postal Act of 1792 did in the 18th century what the Internet has done in modern times: connected a far-flung world and marketplace. The transcontinental railroad joined the coasts via federal land with federal loans. The Homestead Acts lured settlers to the Wild West, a centurylong land redistribution program . conceived by Republicans.

Pretty ironic, eh? Oh, Big Government, not only does conservative dogma ignore the GOP’s proud history, it ignores some bedrock conservative values — such as, just to name one, law and order. The same folks who demand you frisk loiterers want you to leave oil companies and banks unmolested by tyrannical job-killing measures like — whaddya call them? — laws.

I feel for you, ya big lug. You’re so ungainly next to the sleek and comely free market, but let’s not forget that the captains of industry, with alarming frequency, go all Bligh on us:

BP (manslaughter), GlaxoSmithKline (suppressing bad clinical news and illegally marketing unapproved drugs), JPMorgan Chase (subprime recklessness), Philip-Morris (lying merchants of cancer), Archer Daniels Midland (price fixing), HSBC (abetting drug-cartels’ money laundering), Enron (megafraud), Comcast (just plain sucking).

Yes, as I constantly say, among the things the free market is free of is conscience.

Now don’t go getting a big head, my dearest Uncle Sam, because in addition to a century of human bondage you have plenty to answer for. Spying on your own citizens is merely your latest outrage. Who can forget the CIA overthrows? The World War II internment of Japanese Americans. The Trail of Tears. The Vietnam War. The Red Scare. Tuskegee. The Amtrak café car.

And yet I’m prepared to be forgiving. Social Security. Yellowstone. The Sherman Antitrust Act. Dude, memory foam! Yes, plutonium and weaponized bacteria aren’t the only things developed in a government lab. Touch-screen technology, too. Whatever number of $600 hammers went into my ATM and Tempur-Pedic pillow is fine by me.

Anyway, per the corporate crimes and misdemeanors listed above, you have no monopoly on institutional transgression. You do, however, have a monopoly on protecting the public from monopolies. And hostile ICBMs. And salmonella. With all due respect to the rights of individual states, some functions require scale.

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