Tag Archives: Michele Bachmann

If it impedes economic growth

I watched the first Republican debates this last Tuesday.  Michele Bachmann, I felt, got the short end of the stick. Even for her coming out party (she declared herself in the race at the debates), she was too often talked over and seemed to get the fewest direct questions. John King spent way too much time asking "Elvis or Cash," "Iphone or Blackberry," "Boxers or Briefs."  Bachmann didn't get a chance to shine. Too bad for fallacy hunters like me.  But when asked what government program she'd cut to reduce the deficit, she did offer up a classic false dilemma (video):

And I would begin with the EPA, because there is no other agency like the EPA. It should really be renamed the job-killing organization of America

Short reply: it is part of the government's job to think 20+ years down the road even when you don't.  Too many complain about the government being on people's backs, but, you know, if you have dangerous chemicals that could end up in my drinking water, the government should be on your back like a family of spider monkeys.  Got toxic waste and need to dispose of it? G-man, I hope, has a long, long, long list of forms and so on that you need to fill out and verify before so.  Why?  'Cause nobody (not even the polluters) wants to live in a world of trash.

(N.B., I once had a colleague who confessed that he rooted for the polluters when watching the late 80's cartoon series Captain Planet.  So I will back off my statement that polluters don't want to live in filth.  Apparently, one of them does, or at least doesn't see the comic book justice of having his trash ending up in his bedroom.)

Nanny State Bingo

I've always been a bit put off by the Nanny-metaphor used by libertarian-leaning conservatives to evoke outrage over some policy of governmental overreaching.  Regulations for salt in fast food?  The "nanny-state" dictates what we eat and our salt-intake.  Rise up, salt patriots!  Raise taxes on unhealthy food?  The "nanny-state" has instituted a fat tax, that nudges us away from the unhealthy foods we want and love.  Fast food diners unite!  I get it.

The point of the metaphor is that it invokes the paternalism of a caretaker who micromanages a youngster's day in a way that interferes with the child's growing autonomy.  The child ends up healthy, but browbeaten.  An overbearing Mary Poppins — "Smile Children.  Eat your brussels sprouts and then we'll all sing a round of 'Row, Row, Row Your Boat!'"  Sometimes, as George Lakoff said, it's all in the metaphors you use.

But now the "Nanny State" metaphor has come unhinged from that original usage.  See, as a particularly weird example, Michele Bachmann's use of the metaphor in saying that tax deductions for breast pumps as medical supplies are evidence of nanny state:

I’ve given birth to five babies, and I’ve breastfed every single one of these babies. To think that government has to go out and buy my breast pump for my babies, I mean, you wanna talk about the nanny state — I think you just got the new definition of the nanny state.

First, why is the fact that she breastfed her children relevant?  Is it that she's making a contrast between her breastfeeding and pumping?  If that's her game, I"ll let working mothers the world over at her.

Second, tthe government isn't going out and buying the pumps.  The people who use them are.  The government then gives them a tax break — just as the government would give you a tax break for buying any medical technology.  I thought Bachmann would be for tax breaks.  Huh.  But I don't see how a tax break ammounts to the same intrusion as a tax hike, like with the former.  In those cases, the government nudges with taxation (a negative reinforcement) citizens away from harmful choices (salt and fat).  In this case, the government incentivizes positively good choices.  It doesn't mandate them and it doesn't punish those who don't take part.  It just seems very different.  On this model, isn't every government program nanny state? Meat inspection?  Nannies who won't let us eat a  little poo in our sausage!  Law enforcement?  Nanny police.  Military protection?  Nanny state with guns! 

The point, of course, is that once you start doing your political thinking just with catchwords, you lose sight of the core metaphors they got their power from. Did 'nanny state' just jump the shark?