Chapter 3: Drowning government in the bathtub: restructuring social provision
One of the defining moments of contemporary conservatism came in Ronald Reagan’s 1981 inaugural address when he declared that government was not the solution to problems but instead the problem. Yet, shrinking the role of the state in public policy areas proved difficult and the right’s capacity to implement its small government agenda was narrowed to dismantling already unpopular means-tested programs. On the other hand, vigorous opposition to Democratic plans to expand social welfare programs did bring some political rewards. This chapter examines the institutional framework, the evolution of ideas and the role of outside interests in driving these dynamics and places a particular focus on health care policy as well as conservative efforts to bring about a major reform of welfare in 1996 and the failure to reform the Social Security system. The chapter also considers how the populism to be embraced by Donald Trump fitted into this picture. While Trump joined with the right’s attacks on “Obamacare”, he rejected the ideas advanced by House Speaker Paul Ryan to build upon the Reagan revolution through the partial privatization of Social Security and Medicare, long seen as the embodiment of “big government”.
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