During the first days of the government shutdown, conservatives were beside themselves with joy. Michele Bachmann (R, MN) told the Washington Post, “It’s exactly what we wanted, and we got it.” Conservative media figures looked forward to “a long siege” that would “ideally” keep the government closed through the 2014 election. It was as if Republicans were relishing revenge against the “47 percent” that Mitt Romney disdained during the 2012 election, and the rest of the American electorate for rejecting the GOP’s agenda.
But conservatives aren’t just rejoicing over the success of their plan to shut down the government. Conservatives are also celebrating the consequences of the shutdown for those hit hardest by it: government workers, and those who rely on the services government agencies and workers provide.
Shutdown and the Conservative Worldview
Conservatives believe shutting down the government is the right thing to do for the same reason they believed sequestration was the right thing to do. To understand this, one must first understand the conservative worldviewas explained by George Lakoff.
Competition is necessary for a moral world; without it, people would not have to develop discipline and so would not become moral beings. Worldly success is an indicator of sufficient moral strength; lack of success suggests lack of sufficient discipline. Dependency is immoral. The undisciplined will be weak and poor, and deservedly so.
In this worldview, the purpose of government is to protect the country by “maximizing military and political strength,” and “promote unimpeded economic activity” so that the “disciplined moral people” and “undisciplined immoral people” get what they deserve. You can tell who the “disciplined moral people are” by their “worldly success.” You can tell who the “undisciplined immoral people” are by their “lack of success.”
Basically, the better off are better off because they are better people. The poor are poor because of their poor character. Promoting “unimpeded economic activity” means favoring the “best people” — those who control wealth and power — over those who are unsuccessful because they are morally weak.
Any government which “impedes” economic activity by the “best people,” through regulations designed to protect the consumers, workers, communities, etc., penalizes morality and discipline. Any government activity which protects the “immoral undisciplined people” from the economic consequences of their poor character rewards immorality and discipline.
To conservatives, sequestration was a good start, but shutting down the government is even better. Sending government workers home without pay, and cutting off services to low-income Americans is the right thing to do. Plus, it means conservatives can force the country to conform to their worldview, without even having to win an election.
Hate The Government, Hate Government Workers
Long before Ronald Reagan quipped that the nine most terrifying words in the English language were “I’m from the government and I’m here to help,” conservatives were united in their disdain for government and a desire to make it small enough to “drown it in the bathtub.” That disdain has metastasized into burning hatred not just for government, but also for government employees and the work that they do.
Fox Business Network personality Stuart Varney recently exemplified the intensity of that when he spoke gleefully of his desire to “punish” government workers, during a radio interview.
President Obama didn’t mention Varney’s comments, when he said during a television interview that the rhetoric against federal workers is “damaging and destructive,” but he could have. Varney’s diatribe typifies the conservative attitude that federal workers are lazy, and don’t do anything important or provide valuable services.
Whether the work federal workers is important work or valuable is actually beside the point to conservatives. That’s why Speaker John Boehner could say “So be it,” when told that GOP budget cuts would kill 200,000 federal jobs. That’s why House Minority Leader Eric Cantor could essentially say “So what?” to concerns that Republican budget cuts would 700,000 jobs. That’s why conservative columnist George Will could say the loss of 24,000 public sector jobs was “good.”
To conservatives, there are some jobs that shouldn’t exist, because they’re not even real jobs. To progressives, a job where you perform a task or provide a service to earn a paycheck that enables you to take care of your home, raise your family, feed your children, and invest in your family’s future is a “real” job. But to conservatives, a government or government-supported job is not a “real” job, because “real jobs only exist in the private sector. If it isn’t done for profit, it probably shouldn’t be done at all.
It’s not just that government jobs aren’t “real” jobs. Government jobs are by their very nature a threat to the conservative worldview. If much of the function of government involves “impeding” economic activity of the “moral disciplined people,” regulating that activity and protecting the “immoral undisciplined people” from its worst excesses is “immoral.”
So, Republicans feel pretty good about even temporarily putting a stop to all of that “immoral” work to benefit “undisciplined immoral people,” who’ve had it too good for too long already.