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JLeslie's avatar

When you use the term “the government” are you thinking of all levels of government?

Asked by JLeslie (63084points) February 22nd, 2021 from iPhone

When I lived in Tennessee I learned that at least some of the people who lived there used the term “the government” to mean the central/federal government. Local government was different.

This was an eye opener for me.

So, does that mean when Republicans talk about smaller government they really are only focusing on the fed? While Democrats perceive government as all levels of government and that is the miscommunication or misunderstanding between the two groups?

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35 Answers

jca2's avatar

I am very aware of the differences between local government (municipal), state, and federal. I work for the government. What is amazing to me is that a lot of people don’t know the difference. People who receive aid (for example Social Security Disability along with other types), often don’t know what comes from the federal, what comes from the County, etc.

As to the second part of your question, I don’t know what Republicans are thinking.

cookieman's avatar

If I’m referring to the President, I will say “Biden” or “Biden Administration”. I might say “Feds” if I’m not sure which branch is immediately responsible — otherwise, I would say “House”, “Senate”, “Pentagon”, “Supreme Court”, etc.

For local stuff, I’ll say “The State” or name our governor (Baker) or maybe the mayor of Boston.

Any level below that, I rarely know anybody’s name and pay little attention to it unless it impacts me directly.

JLeslie's avatar

@cookieman @jca2 Ok, so if someone says “the government” or “smaller government” are you thinking all levels of government?

@cookieman Which part of the country are you in? I know @jca2 is in the northeast.

jca2's avatar

I’m in NY, and when I hear “the government” I usually think of the Federal government. Where I work, when someone refers to the County level, it’s referred to as “The County.” I know when it’s something like garbage pickup, or parking, it’s town/city, so for me to say what I think of, it would depend on the context. Parkways depends on the different parkway. It’s complicated for me to say what I think of because there are so many possibilities.

When I went out in the field, representing my employer of course, people would complain to me about Social Security (federal) not having a clue what of their assistance comes from SS, what comes from the County, etc.

hello321's avatar

I’m not sure I use the term, “the government”, although I could be wrong. The only time I see or hear “the government” is in the context of some right-wing argument.

JLeslie's avatar

@hello321 That’s kind of my point. What exactly is the right wing talking about when they say “the government” and what does the left think they mean.

Cupcake's avatar

If I said something like, “the government should…” [fill in the blank], I would probably be talking about federal government. If I’m talking about state/county/city government, I would likely say that.

I’m in the SE, but from the NE.

Cupcake's avatar

@JLeslie When “the right” talk about “small government”, I believe they are referring to both federal and state in terms of regulation, oversight and any policy that may infringe on “personal rights” and “freedoms”. Also taxes and budgets.

The conservatives I know believe NY and CA are massively over-reaching in their approach to control COVID, for example. Those are state regulations.

JLeslie's avatar

Here’s an example.

About ten years ago I was in the locker room at my gym. Two women who I knew were talking about how the government is terrible, one of those general complaints about government doing nothing well. I remarked, “that’s kind of funny considering we are all here in a government subsidized gym.” One of the women replied to me saying something on the order of, “oh, well the gym is different it’s local.”

cookieman's avatar

@JLeslie: I am just outside of Boston.

If somebody said “the government” to me, I would want a clarification between state or federal, at least.

gondwanalon's avatar

When talking about government it is important to make it clear what government is being referred to. Is it local government, city government, state government, federal government and also in which country.

Demosthenes's avatar

Well, I recently said “the government” when speaking about who should be criticized for the Vietnam War (i.e. not the soldiers). So in that case I was using the term to differentiate between those who waged the war and those who actually fought in it. In this case it would be the federal government. I’ll have to look more clearly at what I mean when I say it, but I would assume that I mean “federal government” most of the time.

Jaxk's avatar

Frankly, I’m not sure it matters. I’m as conservative as you can get. When I say or hear ‘Government’ I’m thinking all levels. At the same time I realize that the Federal Government is in to everything from schools to Hiways. Liberals want everything pushed to the federal level while conservatives want things pushed down to the states. If you are talking about some policy that you like or dislike and assigning blame or credit, it’s seldom wrong to be talking about federal. Hell during Obama’s stimulus package one of the ‘shovel ready projects’ was to build a Frisbee Park. Who would have thought a Frisbee park would be a federal issue?

janbb's avatar

@Jaxk But then again, who would have thought that controlling what women do with their own bodies or gender diverse people for that matter was a Federal issue? You pays your money and you takes your choice. It isn’t so clear any more which is the party of freedom of choice and/or states’ rights any more.

Jaxk's avatar

^^^ I’m not sure that turning this into an abortion issue is the right course but it sounds like you agree that liberals want everything to be a federal issue.

janbb's avatar

@Jaxk No, I don’t agree but I do agree that I was derailing the thread so we can drop it.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I usually mean the Feds, not local who I would refer to by name or position.

JLeslie's avatar

@KNOWITALL So, if someone else says “the government” do you also assume they mean the feds?

si3tech's avatar

When I use the word “government” I try to specify local, state or federal. There is a difference.

Caravanfan's avatar

I do. I work for the government, but it’s a county government. But I am a government employee.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Increasingly, with the decline of their middle class tax base, state and municipal governments lack the finances to discharge their obligations. People bitching about Federal “overreach” fail to consider that it is the Feds ALONE with the credit card to finance and bail out state and local governments. Of course the Feds BY NECESSITY must assume ever more of the burden in propping the country up as the rich loot us of the revenue formerly required. It’s just plain ridiculous that no one notices anymore that the people can no longer sustain their governments and yet somehow, miraculously—the rich get richer.

raum's avatar


Jaxk's avatar

@stanleybmanly – State and local government revenues are fully half of the total government revenues. Continuously raising taxes of all kinds Both state/local and federal is sucking the middle class dry and is the primary reason for the decline of the middle class.

hello321's avatar

@Jaxk: “Continuously raising taxes of all kinds Both state/local and federal is sucking the middle class dry and is the primary reason for the decline of the middle class.”

Even ignoring the “middle class” mythology, you seem to forget that tax rates for the wealthy are at record (or near) record lows. We know that redistributing money upwards (cutting tax rates to the wealthy, and subsequently the programs that this funded) was part of what killed your “middle class”.

Did you mean to say “Continuously lowering taxes…”?

KNOWITALL's avatar

@JLeslie No, I always assume it’s the Feds. Marijuana legalization for instance pit the Feds against the States.

JLeslie's avatar

@KNOWITALL Did you mean to write you don’t always assume it’s the feds? I’m confused by your answer.

janbb's avatar

When I use the term the Government, I usually mean the Federal government; otherwise I would specify state or local or use the officials’ names.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@JLeslie No, I always assume it’s the Federal government when people are anti-government or calling for smaller government.

JLeslie's avatar

@KNOWITALL Ok, thanks, sorry for the back and forth. That’s helpful.

Since the conversation I had in the locker room at my gym I always try to specify what part of government I mean, while prior to that I meant any level of government if I said “the government.” It feels to me like many Republicans in the South view the central government as being taken over by Democrats, secularists, and socialists who are trying to control the whole nation and ruin the American way of life as they perceive it. It almost doesn’t matter who is actually president or which party has more power in congress.

Now, I wonder if that Texan on my friend’s facebook thread who was saying Texans don’t need government to help, Texans help each other, if that same guy actually is ok with Texas local government helping, just not the feds.

stanleybmanly's avatar

@Jaxk Of course the middle class is carrying more than its share of the tax burden. But as @hello321 states, your claim that the tax burden is excessive ignores the issue of just who it is that is PAYING their share of the taxes. If the middle class is declining as you say while the rich are CLEARLY getting richer, which of the two are UNDERTAXED?

KNOWITALL's avatar

@JLeslie I couldn’t say for sure, but I know the Mayor who resigned specifically meant the Feds, from the articles I read. I believe it was in regards to FEMA shelters and other help.
Either way, a little kooky to deny people lifesaving Fed help if offered, to me.

JLeslie's avatar

@KNOWITALL I wonder if the president was a Republican if they would accept the help? A lot of people believe when Republican governors request FEMA and the president is a Republican, they get an overabundance of help sometimes not warranted. In Florida when Jeb Bush was governor and we got hit with a bad hurricane his brother would send help and some people feel some of the counties that received help didn’t really meet the criteria. In the past few years Texas has accepted Fema help from Trump with the hurricanes that hit there, why not now? From what I understand Texas has asked for federal help regarding the situation they are currently going through.

I am curious about the attitude of the people in Texas and if it matters to them who is president, not whether Republicans really get more help from Republican Presidents or if Democrats give more help to Democrats, etc. I realize you can’t know what is in the mind of Texans, I am just thinking out loud.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@JLeslie Probably, in my opinion, they’d be praising it. I heard that Biden never offered any help, but I haven’t researched that.
I believe that thing’s have just not settled into a more friendly situation yet, with the pipeline cancelled, gas prices rising, fears about the stock market, etc… I think some real damage was done that will take some time to heal, but I’m still not sure either party is willing to reach out to bridge the divide yet.

JLeslie's avatar

@KNOWITALL I perceive Biden as wanting to calm things down and he doesn’t constantly accuse Republicans of being bad or doing horrible things, so I like that.

As far as politics in general, I don’t see much changing. The Democrats are all over my governor now. Saying he’s racist, saying he opened the state irresponsibly in April, saying he vaccinated all of his friends.

Republicans like him and like that Florida is open, and so I think they see DeSantis as a very possible candidate for 2024. Both the Democrats and the Republicans are only half right about DeSantis in my opinion and I’m here living it. Anyway, just all the talk about him looks like the same partisan politics as usual to me.

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