Category Archives: G

Smaller Government = Wimpy Government

Like a traffic cop, government should be strong, caring, and responsible enough to protect our rights and safety.
Like a traffic cop, government should be strong, caring, and responsible enough to protect our rights and safety.
Photo Credit: RobertFrancis via Compfight cc

Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist famously said that he wants the federal government to be small enough to drown in a bathtub. If we take this metaphor seriously, then he wants a wimpy government–one he could easily overpower.

If he got his way, Uncle Sam would be wimpy in specific ways, especially:

  • Too weak to protect Americans from abuse and neglect by Big Business (because of deregulation of business) and
  • Too weak to help Americans suffering poverty and hardship (because of slashing the social welfare system).

What if supporters of industry regulation and social welfare argued like this?

My opponent says he wants smaller government. What he means is he wants a wimpy government:

  • a government too weak to stop oil companies from drilling in dangerous ways in dangerous places,
  • a government too weak to protect us when employers fail to pay overtime and discriminate against employees,
  • a government too weak to say no when state and local governments try to make it harder for citizens to vote,
  • a government too weak to punish car companies when they sell us cars with dangerous defects,
  • a government too weak to extend a helping hand when we suffer unemployment and poverty,
  • a government too weak to insist that businesses, communities, and individuals leave America cleaner, safer, and healthier than we found it through environmental regulations,
  • etc.

That’s unacceptable! I believe America is greatest when the government is our strong ally and protector:

  • Strong, caring and responsible enough to protect our rights when they’re violated;
  • Strong, caring and responsible enough to insist that Big Business consider not just shareholder value but also the wellbeing of its workers, communities, and the natural world that makes life and commerce possible;
  • Strong, caring and responsible enough to tell Big Oil, “Sorry, it’s too dangerous to drill there.”
  • Strong, caring and responsible enough to tell Big Finance, “Sorry, what you’re asking for could lead to another crash like in 2008. We can’t have that.”


Whatever you may think of these specific examples, the construction “a government too weak/wimpy to…” do something that Americans deeply value is powerful. It exposes what the vision of “smaller government” could mean.

And opposing this vision of wimpy government with a vision of strong, caring, responsible government also is powerful. That is what progressives want. We should proudly say so.

What say you?

P.S. I’ve never been able to square the drown-in-a-bathtub image with a strong military.

When “School Aid” Isn’t School Aid

Here’s an example of framing on the state level.  Iowa has a law that the legislature, within 30 days of convening, must set amounts of state money that will be available for each of the school systems in the coming academic year.

Since the beginning, this has been called “allowable growth.”  In other words, the legislature sets the amount by which each budget will be allowed to grow in the coming year.  School systems, obviously, depend on this during their budgeting processes to provide for everything from increases in diesel fuel costs (for buses) to staff raises.

The Republican majority in the Iowa statehouse, dominated by radicals, has refused to comply with this law, and allowable growth has not yet been set.  This is one kind of issue, of course, but nobody seems to care.

"Allowable growth" and "school aid" are two opposing ways of thinking about state funding of public education, not just different words.
“Allowable growth” and “school aid” are two opposing ways of thinking about state funding of public education, not just different words.

Radical Republicans now refer to allowable growth by the term “supplemental school aid.”  They have turned it from being a matter of law into being another government handout, signaled by their use of the red-flag word “aid.” This fits their ideology, but it is incorrect.

While it is true that state government aids school districts, the aid is funded by taxes and mandated by a law that predates this legislature by many years.

Some Democrats are buying into the term, unfortunately.  When my wife and I heard one of them use “school aid” at a League of Women Voters Legislative forum this morning, we said, “Ah, ah, it’s allowable growth.”  Undeterred, the radical Republican who was present published a column in our local newspaper repeating the phrase in question and attempting to justify his party’s defiance of state law.

This post’s author is the Rev. Dr. Cleveland Eugene Bryant, a United Church of Christ pastor who heard language used in all kinds of interesting ways over the forty years he served in congregations. In retirement, he volunteers in reading programs, works with the Iowa Democratic Party and League of Women Voters, and encourages his wife in her career as a professional organist. He also rides a motorcycle, but with all of his clothes on.

What Foes of Government Regulation Don’t Want You to Realize

As I’ve pointed out before, many government regulations are intended to protect the public from abuse or injury and to ensure ethical behavior by business. These protections help Us the People have confidence that we will be treated fairly and not ripped off.

Gas Pump inspection label
The State of Alabama inspected this gas pump to ensure that it measured gallons correctly. This gives buyers confidence. Photo Credit: Dystopos via Compfight cc

For example, state officials test gas pumps and grocery-store scales to ensure that they are measuring accurately. This frees customers from worry about being charged for more product than we bought. It also frees business owners from worrying about charging for less than was sold and from having to convince potential customers that they are measuring honestly.

This confidence is in the interest of both businesses and their customers and allows markets to function. Therefore, the rules are confidence-creators or confidence-builders.

Therefore, when extreme conservatives denounce government regulation in the abstract, Framologists can reply that good government regulations are confidence-creators that markets need to function. We then can invite them to help us ensure that specific regulations really do help create confidence.

Government regulation -> Confidence creation

What do you think? How much confidence should I have in this reframe?

Framing Big Government: Who Governs and to What End?

Extreme conservatives label many government efforts they don’t like as big government. This frames the issue as the size of government–with smaller seeming more desirable, of course.

Big Brother is watching you.
According to the Principle of Conservation of Government, corporations could be the tyrant to be feared.

To me, the phrase brings to mind the all-knowing, all-powerful Big Brother from George Orwell’s novel 1984.

Instead of defending “big government,” progressives should reframe the debate as about who governs and to what end, not size. According to George Lakoff,

There is a Principle of Conservation of Government: If conservatives succeed in cutting government by the people for the public good, our lives will still be governed, but now by corporations. We will have government by corporations for corporate profit…. It will be a cruel government, a government of foreclosures, outsourcing, union busting, outrageous payments for every little thing, and pension eliminations.

Smaller Governement = Corporate GovernmentSo when extreme conservatives say they want smaller government, progressives could reply that their opponents are advocating government by corporations. Instead, we want the people to govern the nation, including corporations. A bumper-sticker version could read, “Smaller government = corporate government.”

Many of the laws government regulations that extreme conservatives want to abolish are intended to protect us from abuse by corporations. Examples include the Clear Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Pure Food and Drug Act, Dodd-Frank, the Volcker Rule, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the minimum wage, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and on and on. If they succeed, the corporations would make the rules for their own benefit, not ours.

That’s unacceptable, and We the People should say so.

Another Way to Frame Gun Control

Why do we require deadly weapons to be registered? It’s the same reason that we require motor vehicles to be registered: they impose costs on society.

While most people most of the time drive safely and lawfully, motor vehicles are dangerous. They kill thousands every year. Every year, law enforcement must solve countless crimes that involve motor vehicles. We require drivers:

  • to be at least a certain age,
  • to pass an exam about the rules of the road,
  • to demonstrate skill in driving,
  • to present a drivers license and proof of liability insurance, and
  • to pay taxes to pay for the maintenance of the streets and highways on which we drive.

While most people most of the time use deadly weapons safely and lawfully, weapons injure and kill thousands accidentally or on purpose. They are involved in countless crimes that police must try to solve. Because of these costs and devastating losses, it’s completely appropriate that the authorities:

  • require registration of weapons,
  • charge fees that are commensurate with the costs imposed on society by weapons, and
  • require that the owners demonstrate knowledge of their safe use and storage.

Doing so is in everyone’s interest, and failing to do so would be irresponsible.

The only one I know of that wouldn’t see it in their interest are criminals and those few extremists that want to own weapons without any accountability to their neighbors. That’s shirking responsibility, and it’s wrong.

Therefore, I propose reframing what is now framed as gun control as registration of deadly weapons and its opponents as the irresponsible few that want to own deadly weapons without accountability.

What do you think they should be called? Does anyone know if owners of deadly weapons are required to carry liability insurance and register annually like owners of cars and trucks? If they aren’t, they should be because the danger the weapons pose persists from year to year.

Framing Global Warming

In The Political Brain, Drew Westen correctly points out that the phrase global warming does not convey the urgency of the problem:

“Warming” has positive connotation, suggesting, at worst, the need for a little extra sub block. “Greenhouse gases” sound like a problem a florist might worry about as Valentine’s Day approaches or something generated by tainted spinach. And for most people, dire warnings about the ocean getting a degree or two warmer let to little more than the thought, “Good, maybe the ocean won’t be so cold on Memorial Day weekend.”

But two features of [Al] Gore’s presentation [An Inconvenient Truth] changed all that. The first was his evocative choice of words. He talked about a “climate crisis”–a phrase with very different connotations than “global warming”–and he ended the film with stirring words about the earth that were anything but abstract: “This is our only home.

The climate crisis is an emergency that demands swift action. As reported in 2009, the scientific journal Nature  specified a “safe operating space for humanity” with indicators estimating how close to Earth’s boundaries for supporting life we are.

Check out the thermometers in the Grist article! They show that Earth is already past the tipping points for “climate change” (another phrase to avoid), biodiversity loss, and the nitrogen cycle and have reached tipping points for ozone depletion and ocean acidification.

In addition to talking about climate crisis, progressives should use the title of the thermometer graphic: “The planet has a fever.” When someone has a fever, he or she needs care and needs it now, not when we can fit it into our schedule.

A great thing about the fever metaphor is that it doesn’t matter who caused the fever; what counts is accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment. When denialists claim, "Well, we don't know for sure that human activity is changing the climate. It could be something else.", progressives could reply, "What matters is that the planet has a fever and we know what to treat it. We mustn't let the fever get worse. It's an emergency!"

What do you think? Does global warming need a reframe? What do you think of “climate crisis” and the fever metaphor? What would you suggest?

Framing Progressive Government, Part 1

Wordle: Jonah Goldberg: Government Growth out of Control

As the word cloud of Jonah Goldberg’s recent column “Government Growth out of Control” shows, the article emphasizes the federal government, the president, and the individual. He objects to the FDA’s preliminary ban on trans fats  in processed foods by claiming that it’s a sign that liberals love to push people around. He summarizes the differences between liberals and conservative views of governing like this:

The difference, however, is that conservatives tend to see government as a necessary evil, and therefore see policymaking with some humility. Liberals tend to see government as a necessary good and see ordering people to do things “for their own good” as a source of pride, even hubris.

From a conservative perspective, telling people how to run their lives when not absolutely necessary is an abuse of power. For liberals, telling people how to run their lives is one of the really fun perks of working for the government.

Besides unfairly attributing bad motives to liberals, it deceives in at least the following ways:

  1. The ban affects giant agribusiness conglomerates, not people,
  2. It’s been known for a long time that trans fats are bad for health and unnecessary, and
  3. Only the conglomerates will miss trans fats.

The purpose of such an article is not to inform but to infect Americans’ minds with the idea that liberals and progressives are bad and not to be trusted with power. We have to defend ourselves against these attacks. According to Drew Westen, taking the high road and not responding means that conservatives’ view of liberals becomes the only one out there. He challenges progressives to speak up and tell our own story in our voice. That’s what this site intends to help progressives do. How about:

Progressives believe that in a democracy, government represents and serves the people. Rather than being a distant threat, democracy government has a responsibility to protect and expand the rights and wellbeing of its citizens. That can mean placing limits on harmful products. Thanks to the government’s attentiveness, we enjoy safe food and water. The ban on dangerous trans fats makes our food supply safer while preserving plenty of choice in the grocery store.

On those rare occasions when food gets contaminated, we know the government will punish the negligent company. Though it might seem nice to think that we wouldn’t need government protection, the food industry’s self-regulation has sickened and endangered Americans in the past. We’re not going back there!

How would you say it?

Framing Gun Control

The phrase "gun control" limits debate too narrowly and brings to mind Big Brother.
The phrase “gun control” limits debate too narrowly and brings to mind Big Brother.

NRA opponents have been emphasizing gun-violence prevention rather than talking about gun control. This is because gun-violence prevention is the movement’s goal. Gun control is only one means among many toward that end. “Violence prevention” wisely and accurately evokes the values of safety and security.

What should supporters of gun-violence prevention be called?

"Gun-violence prevention" brings hope and prudence to mind.
“Gun-violence prevention” brings hope and prudence to mind.