Words matter. I wish Zach Dasher chose his more carefully. Unfortunately there was nothing novel about the rhetoric that spilled from his maw June 16 when he announced his bid for the 5th Congressional District seat — the one presumably being vacated by Rep. Vance McAllister.
Dasher is first cousin to the Duck Dynasty guys, whose drawled, hirsute endorsement pushed McAllister to victory in last year’s special election. State Sen. Neil Riser, whom McAllister beat in a runoff but was still considered a viable candidate this fall, says he’s not running. Assuming the Robertson clan backs cousin Dasher, his chances of winning the seat are probably good. Because, inexplicably, Duck Dynasty is still on TV.
Dasher’s campaign announcement that June morning was bloated with the now all-too-common clichés about “big government intellectual elitists in Washington” trying to control our lives and take away our rights “day by day,” “forcing us to purchase their health care insurance because they think they know better than we do when it comes to managing our private lives.”
I’m cool with Dasher being anti-Obamacare. He can be a (womanizing) Bible thumper with a gun fetish, too. But throwing around phrases like “big government intellectual elitists in Washington” is vexing for two big reasons.
One, it casts smart people and specialization as suspicious, feeding scepticism about global warming, evolutionary biology, the value of vaccinations and science in general, which in micro might be harmless but in macro jeopardizes the herd.
It renders intellectuals — scientists, policy experts, the professorial class — effete, emasculate “others.” They become a convenient straw man in craven, dog-whistle appeals to racism, nativism and antiquated prejudices.
Yet we rely on specialization and smart, well-educated people every day without batting an eye. Dasher does too. I’m sure he would prefer a mechanic under the hood of his SUV and a neurosurgeon under his cranium, not vice versa.
Two, it fans the flames that consume anti-government extremists like Jerad and Amanda Miller, architects of that bloody rampage in Las Vegas that left two police officers, a bystander and themselves dead.
Framing the federal government as a sinister overlord of black helicopters and aloof intellectual elites gives tacit justification for the Millers’ actions — Jerad Miller’s Facebook page was dripping with paranoia, rage and revolutionary self-righteousness — and it gives comfort to the anti-government, gun-nut militias and asinine, racist welfare cowboys like Cliven Bundy. Gov. Bobby Jindal increasingly plays this hand, too, let’s note.
But what, after all, is the federal government?
Spoiler alert — it’s us.
In virtually every county/parish seat in America there are federal offices and employees. Lafayette is full of them, hundreds at least if not thousands — clerks and administrators at the Social Security office, corporals at the military recruiting offices, researchers and janitors at the National Wetlands Research Center, agents and secretaries at the FBI and Homeland Security offices, air traffic controllers at Lafayette Regional, park rangers at the Jean Lafitte Acadian Cultural Center.
They are named Jeanmard, Smith, Jones and Carmouche. They clock out at the end of the day and go home to wives, husbands, children and pets. They worry about tuition, bills and mama’s bursitis. They sit next to us in church and in the bleachers at soccer games. They are us.
We’re the feds by far fewer than six degrees.
The number of federal employees relative to U.S. population is lower than it’s been in decades. Does anyone honestly believe Uncle Sam is a greater existential threat to freedom than he was 40 years ago, 50 years ago? Yes, there’s the Patriot Act and the NSA, but have “jackbooted thugs” come for our guns or to register us for FEMA camps? What rights are being taken away or eroded? The right to forgo health insurance and push your medical bills onto the rest of us? The right to discriminate against gay people? Please.
Dasher’s words give quarter to those whose paranoia flares into legislative paralysis and even violence. It feeds a dangerous, false narrative by casting the federal government as an unsympathetic outsider, a malevolent agent of control and overreach. It’s neither accurate nor fair, and it’s past time we call BS on this reckless rhetoric and claw our way back to the hard business of being a functioning republic.