“The power to destroy a thing is the absolute control over it.”
Paul-Muad’dib to the Guild navigators, Dune, by Frank Herbert (1965)
Variations on that line have been going through my head ever since the debt-ceiling debate cranked up in earnest a few weeks back — to me, it explains the fundamental strength that conservative Republicans possessed as the negotiations progressed. Basically, they don’t CARE about government, and most seem as though they’d be happy to see it go away entirely. Democrats, by contrast, BELIEVE in the need for government and are hence horrified at the thought of taking actions that risk damaging it and the people who count on it.
Many people have compared the House Republicans’ position on the debt ceiling to a hostage-taking or a shakedown (“nice economy you got there — it’d be sad if something bad happened to it”), and it’s a good analogy in the sense that their power derives from their ability (and willingness) to destroy something of value to their political opponents. Of course, government services might just be valuable to their constituents as well, something we’ll learn more about in 2012.
It’s also worth pointing out a deeper selfishness involved involved in the equation: Democratic states functionally subsidize Republican states, and as I found in my distant days in the Texas Legislature, (relatively) pro-tax urban areas typically subsidize low-tax rural counties (think of Michelle Bachmann’s family farm subsidy payments as an example). It must be easy to bad-mouth government when someone else is footing the bill for the benefits it gives you and your neighbors….