Last week, Gov. Nikki Haley visited the Lowcountry and made an appearance at a meeting of the East Cooper Republican Club. During her 30-minute speech, the governor spoke about the issues that are normally near and dear to her heart — things like ethics reform and jobs creation. She also discussed another one of her pet projects, the creation of a Department of Administration.
Currently, the General Assembly-controlled State Budget and Control Board oversees the day-to-day administrative functions of the state. Haley wants to transfer that power to an Administration Department, which would be under her control.
Gov. Haley's desire to create a Department of Administration highlights how "small-government" conservatives are, at heart, little more than authoritarian despots who want to centralize power in the executive branch rather than give it to "the people."
One of Haley's main arguments for the creation of a Department of Administration is that "every other state" in the country has one. I suppose there is some logic to that, although it is logic fraught with problems. After all, if every state had a Department of Jumping Off a Cliff, would South Carolina want one, too?
That's a fairly superficial dig, of course. A more substantial problem is contained in what Haley and other governors argue about when they talk about the need to create these departments. Hidden in the usual rhetoric of "efficiency" and "streamlining government" are some pretty chilling ideas, including the idea that "government should be run as a business" or that a governor is the "CEO" of a state. None of these concepts should ever be confused with democratic ideals. After all, very few serious business executives will tell you their company is a democracy, or even a republic. Businesses run themselves as tiny, private dictatorships or — at best — oligarchies, with control of all the major decisions held by those at the top echelon of power.
Yet small-government conservatives and "libertarians" routinely applaud this sort of hierarchical control when it's applied to government, seemingly in direct contradiction to their own stated democratic beliefs. I have never understood how that works in their heads. It seems like the cognitive dissonance created by these two clashing ideas would ultimately lead to massive headaches. I know I get them when I think about it for too long, so maybe I'm missing something in the equation, but I doubt it.
Then again, perhaps the stress of holding these contrary notions does occasionally show through in how Gov. Haley and her allies approach their idea of a Department of Administration. One telling and amusing example of this occurred in February 2012. Back then, the General Assembly had spent five weeks debating the merits of an Administration Department, and Haley, through the use of her campaign videographer, released a video blasting them for moving so "slowly" (the enemy of efficiency, it seems) and claiming that "this is not about power." Haley then turns the microphone over to state Sen. Tom Davis, who less than two minutes later states, "This is all about power."
Haley now, it seems, is comfortable talking about a Department of Administration in terms of power. A press release from the governor states, "South Carolina needs a more efficient and effective government — one that's run like a business. No CEO lacks control over personnel, facilities, technology, or other back-office functions, and South Carolina's governor shouldn't either."
This is not the only issue that should worry small-government conservatives though. Haley's desire for "control" extends also to her desire to centralize South Carolina's ethics oversight functions into a single body. Her fervor for both of these issues, and especially the General Assembly's failure to adopt them, often comes out as a desire to get rid of the politicians who stall or vote against her pet projects. These are disturbing sentiments from a democratically elected governor against democratically elected legislators.
Equally disturbing is the governor's use of an official videographer and social media as a way to get her message across. Haley claims she uses these new media outlets as a way to speak directly to the people, but by doing so, she effectively bypasses the press (with whom she maintains a record of ignoring or belittling) and suppresses dissent from the people. The governor's habit of deleting Facebook comments and banning users from her page appears to be aimed at creating a cult of personality full of rabid Nikki Haley fans. And by cleverly employing a videographer, the governor is operating what looks like a Ministry of Information inside her administration. These are not hallmarks of democracy. These are the tools of authoritarianism.
Gov. Haley's call for a smaller and more efficient government is not the same as a call for limited government. We should all keep in mind that small government and the centralization of power in fewer hands have more in common with dictatorships than they do with any concept of freedom and democracy.