Why are those who yearn for moderate government called extremists?

Following the example of my sometimes debating partner, Tribune commentator Eric Zorn, I was skimming through my column archives and came across a Chicago Tribune column I liked when I wrote it, and still like. It was written two years ago, but applies today as much to America's upset caused by the overreach of government as it did then. Here it is:

Taking a hatchet to moderate government

Opponents to Obama’s health care takeover have real reasons for distress

March 30, 2010

Go ahead, attack promoters of moderate government. Paint them as flakes, kooks and goons. Call them unhinged and unglued. Toxic, mean-spirited, shrill and dangerous.

Nothing would please us more than your persisting in mislabeling or misunderstanding — the effect is the same — what angers the majority of Americans.

Convince yourself that dissenters to your engorgement of government are doing it because they are racists and bigots. Like columnist Frank Rich, who in Sunday's New York Times said opposition to the health care bill was spawned by bigotry: "The conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay congressional committee chairman — would sow fears of disenfranchisement among a dwindling and threatened minority in the country no matter what policies were in play."

Don't give anyone credit for objecting to where you're leading the country because your path is misdirected. Please, please, continue your crusade to alienate more and more honest and worried Americans who see great danger in the extreme expansion that government has undergone in the last few years.

You've already done a great job of dividing the country, but don't stop now. Seventy-eight percent, including 82 percent of independents, think government spending is out of control. Eighty-one percent are fed up with the growing deficit and 73 percent with government spending. Sure, deride the poll because it came from Fox News; ignore the clarity of American anger.

Continue your merry way to balloon government. Today, for example, President Barack Obama is scheduled to sign into law a government takeover of the student loan program. Not a lot of people noticed this significant change because it was done in the shadow of the health insurance debate. Next up comes legislation to broaden Washington's involvement into state and local schools, including the setting of national school standards.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota Republican whom Democrats love to hate, is getting a larger dose of ridicule than usual for asserting that the federal government now has taken over ownership or control of 51 percent of the nation's economy. She doesn't cite the source for the information, and my first reaction was disbelief. Yes, ObamaDemCare is a takeover of 17 percent of the economy, but how did we get to 51 percent? So, start adding it up: ownership positions in two of the nation's three car companies, in Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, banks, the country's biggest insurance company. You still probably don't get to 51 percent, but it's a lot.

Whoever — George W. Bush or Obama, Republicans or Democrats — started this cascade, it's getting unnerving. Hundreds of billions of "stimulus" money. Official government debt expected in nine years to equal nearly all goods and services produced in the United States. Foreign ownership of our many IOUs. More stimulus money going down state and local sinkholes that will get ever deeper because they're in trouble too.

Yes, the country's anger is a reflection of the unpopularity of redoing of the nation's health care system. But the upset is caused by more than the health care law and the way it was pushed through Congress in violation of Obama's campaign promises of truth and goodness. It's caused by more than the wild ride that is taking us into fiscal disaster. It's also caused by the endless portrayal, as by Rich and others, of sensible Americans as brick-throwing and violent dopes. Too rustic to understand real-world "complexities."

For every brick-thrower, spitter and bigot and for every hyperbolic politician and egomaniacal talk-radio host, millions of other Americans are justifiably enraged. What angers many Americans is the abandonment of a concept that laid the foundation of the Constitution and the nation itself: limited government. Millions of Americans who sense a suffocating future in an overblown government are reflective, intelligent and informed. They'd laugh at, if it weren't so dumbfounding, Obama's assertion last week that his programs "look beyond the next election to do what's right for the next generation."

Mock those Americans, if you must, for knowing that the direction we're headed fails to do what's right for the next generation. But that's where we're headed, and your ridiculing those whose distress is honest and real doesn't solve the problem.

 

 

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    Chicago Tribune contributing op-ed columnist and author of forthcoming historical novel, "Madness: The War of 1812." Reporter, editor and columnist for Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Daily News. Freelance writer and editor.

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