Blurring Lines in Debate Over Government

I remember a time when liberals were the people who used government as a democratic counterweight to the abuses of capitalism, and conservatives were those close to big business who wanted to limit government. Liberals also recognized, with the Framers of the Constitution, that government had to be strong enough to protect the rights of the weak. Conservatives didn't like the power of the state, but were fine with concentrated private power.

Yes, there were inconsistencies and exceptions on both sides, but there was a philosophical coherence to it. And when regular people got mobilized and attractive candidates appeared, we could even elect leaders who would direct government for the public good.

But, lately the lines have blurred. The old, stylized picture of what liberals and conservatives want of government doesn't mean much, especially to younger Americans, because they have seldom experienced it.

Consider: An administration currently run by supposed liberals thinks that it's ok for government to secretly seize phone and Internet records of citizens, without the kind of explicit search warrant contemplated by the Fourth Amendment. The conservatives who controlled the federal government in the Bush administration were even more cavalier about trampling citizen rights. You have to go to the libertarian right (Rand Paul) and the progressive left (Bernie Sanders, Jeff Merkley) to find support for containing the national security state.

And the whistle blower who raised the curtain on some of the NSA's secret data-mining program? Edward Snowden worked for a government contractor, Booz-Allen-Hamilton. More and more of the government is being contracted out and privatized, even the most sensitive state secrets, not to mention basic public services. Even the U.S. armed forces depend increasingly on private mercenaries.

Far from being a counterweight to economic elites who invoke the freedom of markets, government has gotten into bed with those elites. Democrats are almost as corrupt as Republicans when it comes to raising money from the very rich, at using public service as a gateway to careers in private lobbying, at turning over public functions to private interests.

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