Delegitimizing government as a means to avoid progressive measures

It has long been clear that the Republican party in Congress, aided by some in the Democratic party, has a straightforward strategy: Block everything that does not provide benefits to the ruling class. By creating gridlock and impasses at every turn, they have sought to give the impression that government is useless. This is part of their greater strategy of creating a sense of voter apathy among the less affluent so that they will wash their hands of government and thus be less likely to vote.

In the August 16, 2021 issue of the New Yorker, Louis Menand writes that given the chance, government can do many things that are of great benefit to many people and he points to a two-year window that demonstrates this.

In the 1964 election, [Lyndon] Johnson won more than sixty per cent of the popular vote, running against Barry Goldwater, who warned that “a government big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away.” Voters chose not to heed that warning. Democrats gained thirty-seven seats in the House and added two in the Senate, giving the Party two-thirds majorities in both chambers, the largest it had enjoyed since the Roosevelt Administration. In a survey conducted after the election, less than twelve per cent of voters gave ideology—liberalism or conservativism—as a reason for their vote.

That Congress, the eighty-ninth, was one of the most productive in American history. It passed the Voting Rights Act, the legislative capstone of the civil-rights movement. It created Medicare, Medicaid, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities. It increased the federal minimum wage. It passed the Higher Education Act and provided federal aid to elementary and secondary education. It passed the Water Quality Act, the Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Control Act, the Highway Beautification Act, the Highway and Motor Vehicle Safety Acts, the Demonstration Cities Act, the Clean Waters Restoration Act, the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act, and a major amendment to the Immigration and Nationality Act. Does anyone seriously think that the country is not better off for what that Congress accomplished?

Eight months later, Ronald Reagan, a man who opposed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and Medicare, which he called an attempt to impose socialism, and who wanted to make Social Security voluntary—a man who essentially ran against the New Deal and the Great Society, a.k.a. “the welfare state”—was elected President. He defeated the incumbent, Jimmy Carter, by almost ten percentage points in the popular vote. “In this present crisis,” Reagan said in his Inaugural Address, “government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.”

Meanwhile, government swung into action. Inflation was checked; the economy recovered. Watergate and Vietnam receded in the rearview mirror. Popular programs like Medicare and Social Security remained intact. For all his talk about reducing the size and the role of government, Reagan did not eliminate a single major program in his eight years in office.

Programs that benefit most people, once enacted, become so popular that they are almost impossible to eliminate. Hence the goal of the oligarchs is to make sure that they are never enacted in the first place and gridlock is the chosen strategy.


  1. lanir says

    I feel like normal people won’t vote in someone like them unless that person is really amazing somehow. But they’ll elect any old milquetoast rich fart who throws a few ads out there and proclaims his own competence as long as he hasn’t done anything too obviously awful.

    I think they feel like someone who isn’t rich is easier to bribe but I think practically speaking the opposite is true. There are loads of ways for money to disappear from one pocket and reappear in another when two rich people are involved. Using the same methods to transfer significant funds to a normal person would be kind of like trying to sweep bowling balls under the carpet. It’s just not going to hide anything. Rich people want other rich people in govermnent otherwise they can’t bribe them. I think that’s another method they use to control and gridlock things.

  2. mnb0 says

    Say what you want about the Republicans -- beginning with Nixon their presidents have done a great job delegitimizing American government.

  3. Some Old Programmer says

    Regan may not have been able to kill the large programs, as they had political backing, but David Stockman in his OMB loudly proclaimed that they were slashing spending.

    Some time ago I did some searching to find out what happened to the Student Science Training Programs that were administered by the NSF. Although I can’t find a reference now, what I found leads me to believe that the Regan administration killed it. I did find a budget for the 1970 incarnation--a bit over $4 million.

    This is personal. The summer before my high school senior year, I attended the 1977 NSF SSTP at the California State University, Humboldt. It was a remarkable experience for a poor kid with good grades (I took out my first loan from a credit union to pay for it). It seems that there is still at least one program extant (University of Florida), but that’s far fewer opportunities than were available.

  4. garnetstar says

    The other aim in delegitimizing government is to deligitimize democracy: if it doesn’t work, in that it is unable to accomplish anything, we must replace it with something else, right? That replacement, the one that the republicans and the ruling class are now pushing, being authoritarianism/fascism. That’s how they’ll get the trains to run on time, you see.

  5. lanir says


    Sounds depressingly accurate. Fascist clocks are a century (or more) behind but they tick along just fine. But they somehow never end up reaching the Time For Things to Get Better.

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