The era of big(ish) government is back 

In 1978, the voters of California overwhelmingly ratified Proposition 13, the so-called "taxpayer revolt" measure that sharply limited property tax increases in that state. The ramifications of Prop 13 went well beyond property taxes and well beyond California. For nearly two generations, American politics has been haunted by that initiative with nearly any tax increase seen as a third rail not to be touched by the nation's governmental leaders. The result has been decreased taxes across the board in the United States, particularly on the wealthiest of our citizens (as shown by an extensive analysis in the New York Times this week), budget deficits at the federal and state levels to pay for the most essential of services and for the national security needs of the nation, and diminished governmental services for those most in need.

This spirit of small government was summed up, of course, by Republican Ronald Reagan in his 1981 inaugural address: "Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem." Even post-Reagan Democrats, of course, partially joined in the rejection of government as Bill Clinton stated in his 1996 State of the Union address: "The era of big government is over ..."

Clinton continued in that famous quote: "... but we cannot go back to a time when Americans must fend for themselves." The results of the 2012 elections and analysis of the public attitudes that drove those outcomes indicate that it is the sentiments expressed in this second part of his quote that are in ascendance as an era of renewed faith in government shows itself across the country.

On Nov. 6, another California initiative showed that the taxpayer revolt is unquestionably over in that state. Proposition 30, an expansive package increasing income and sales taxes in the state to the tune of at least $6 billion annually passed with nearly 55 percent support. The increased revenues go primarily to education and public safety, two sectors hit hardest by the Prop 13 reforms. Appearing personally in many ads for the initiative was Gov. Jerry Brown; his personal advocacy of the tax increase shows that such measures are now more of a fake log than a third rail. Across the nation, tax increases were passed by voters, particularly when they were tied to an identifiable governmental goal. This was true even in Arkansas, where a healthy majority of voters chose a 10-year sales tax increase to upgrade the state road system. In other states, efforts to make tax increases more difficult were rejected by voters.

Having run, and won, twice on the notion of allowing the highest earners' tax rates to be raised, President Obama rightly feels that he does have a mandate to fight for this change to the tax code. While it remains unclear exactly what components will make up the package of revenue increases and spending cuts that will allow the government to avoid the "fiscal cliff," it's clear that tax increases on the wealthy will be part of the deal.

Most important for future trends, however, are the attitudes of the youngest American voters. They show comfort with expanding government and covering the costs of that expansion. According to the Pew Research Center's analysis of exit polls in the 2012 election, nearly six in 10 voters under 30 believe that the government should do more to solve societal problems. This generation has not voted Democratic because of the party's stances on social issues or the president's distinctive connection with them; they have voted Democratic because of their belief in government.

Let's not be mistaken, Great Society-style "big government" is not on its way back immediately. Republicans who see President Reagan's inaugural address phrase as their mantra remain in positions of tremendous influence in Congress. But, those views are too harsh for the middle of the American electorate. More importantly, they are decidedly out of step with voters under 30 who will soon be in the driver's seat in U.S. politics. For those of us who will be in their golden years when that generation takes the reins, that is a comforting notion indeed.

Max Brantley is on vacation.

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by Jay Barth

  • The bluest of the blue: Little Rock

    The 2014 election cycle has left progressives in Arkansas — never in the majority but consistently holding a place at the table in the state's policymaking — scrambling to determine what comes next in Arkansas.
    • Dec 4, 2014
  • A new political chapter begins in Arkansas

    While there is much more diving into numbers from exit polls and vote tallies from Election 2014 to be done, it is clear that Arkansas's voters went beyond merely turning a page on the state's electoral past and instead created a wholly new chapter. In the process, three distinguishing elements of Arkansas's political tradition — its provincialism, its personalism and its populism — all shifted from the present to past tense in an election that served as the exclamation point for an era of dramatic change in the state's politics.
    • Nov 20, 2014
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Arkansas's Dems must learn from Obama

    Many of Arkansas's Democratic candidates have avoided speaking Barack Obama's name throughout his years on the national scene. However, if the party is to retain two preeminent state offices in 2014, it will need to borrow the techniques of the Obama operation crucial to his 2012 victory.
    • Dec 26, 2012

Most Shared

  • The TC Edwards memorial roundup

    TC Edwards had hundreds of friends. If you were among them or even somewhere on the periphery, your Facebook feed has been dominated this week by tributes and photos and news of benefit concerts. Here's an attempt at a roundup of everything that's out there, with a focus on all the things you can do or attend.
  • Psych of the South: The Mercenaries' 'Things Found Here'

    Recently, a trove of band business cards from the golden era of Arkansas garage bands was discovered and put on eBay. I was able to purchase some of them, including one by a little known 1960s garage band from Little Rock named The Mercenaries. Their record, on the cult favorite MY records label based in Little Rock, was released in early 1967. Their songs, including the atmospheric and heavy “Things Found Here” along with the psychedelic tinged “Take It All” are obscure even by garage rock standards. They were not featured on the 1999 Butler Center MY records compilation and their story has not been told before
  • Arkansas Baptist College receives $30 million federal loan; expected to ease cash crunch

    Arkansas Baptist College officials say they have received news of approval of a federal loan that is expected to stabilize the college's finances after a period of struggle.
  • Alderman says he'll try again for Fayetteville civil rights ordinance

    Fayetteville Alderman Matt Petty says he'll try again to pass a city civil rights ordinance that extends some protections to LGBT people.
  • The Koch Party: Inside the oligarchs' political machine

    Politico delves deeply into the political machine begin built with the Koch brothers' fortune — a data-driven colossus for voter identification and turnout that has eclipsed Republican Party machinery to the extent that people like Tom Cotton used it over party tools.

Latest in Jay Barth

  • The bluest of the blue: Little Rock

    The 2014 election cycle has left progressives in Arkansas — never in the majority but consistently holding a place at the table in the state's policymaking — scrambling to determine what comes next in Arkansas.
    • Dec 4, 2014
  • A new political chapter begins in Arkansas

    While there is much more diving into numbers from exit polls and vote tallies from Election 2014 to be done, it is clear that Arkansas's voters went beyond merely turning a page on the state's electoral past and instead created a wholly new chapter. In the process, three distinguishing elements of Arkansas's political tradition — its provincialism, its personalism and its populism — all shifted from the present to past tense in an election that served as the exclamation point for an era of dramatic change in the state's politics.
    • Nov 20, 2014
  • The good, the bad and the ugly of the election

    Because of our publication schedule, I write this just after casting my vote at Dunbar Recreation Center on Election Day morning before any results are known.
    • Nov 6, 2014
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

December

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Civil rights history book

    • My name is Judy, I'm from California. i want to use this opportunity to thank…

    • on December 17, 2014
  • Re: Civil rights history book

    • Lovely post

    • on December 17, 2014
  • Re: School truths

    • Interesting article. By the way, all students can get valuable writing help with creating essays…

    • on December 17, 2014
 

© 2014 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation