President Ronald Reagan uttered those words in his 1981 inaugural address to the country. He was referring specifically to the government’s role in helping bring the US out of an economic crisis. But since then, it’s become a kind of blanket truism in Republican circles. The government is a perennial boogeyman, and the main policy objective on the right has been to reduce the role of government in public life.
But there’s a problem: Many who accept this dogma are the very people who need the government the most. Research shows, for instance, that Republican states are disproportionately dependent on federal aid. Yet many Republican voters appear blissfully unaware of this contradiction.
In her new book The Government-Citizen Disconnect, Cornell political scientist Suzanne Mettler investigates this paradox. She looks at historical government data as well as surveys of Americans’ experiences with 21 federal social policies, including food stamps, Social Security, Medicaid, and the home mortgage interest deduction.