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What happened to the GOP that stood for limited government?

BERKELEY — I’m old enough to remember when the Republican Party stood for limited government — when Ronald Reagan thundered “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.”

Today’s Republican Party, while still claiming to stand for limited government, is practicing just the opposite: government intrusion everywhere.

Republican states are on the way to outlawing abortions. Texas has just banned abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, before many women even know they’re pregnant. Other Republican states are considering similar measures.

Republican lawmakers are stopping schools from requiring students to wear masks. Iowa, Tennessee, Utah, Texas, Florida, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Arizona and South Carolina have ordered public schools not to demand them.

Republican lawmakers are forbidding teachers from telling students about America’s racist past. State legislatures from Tennessee to Idaho are barring all references to racism in the classroom.

Republican legislators are forcing transgender students to play sports and use bathrooms according to their assigned gender at birth. Some 33 states have introduced more than 100 bills aiming to curtail the rights of transgender people across the country.

Republican lawmakers are making it harder for people to vote. So far, they’ve enacted more than 30 laws that reduce access to polling places, number of days for voting and availability of absentee voting.

This is not limited government, folks. To the contrary, these Republican lawmakers have a particular ideology, and they are now imposing those views and values on citizens holding different views and values.

This is big government on steroids.

Many Republican lawmakers use the word “freedom” to justify what they’re doing, but that’s bogus. What they’re really doing is denying people their freedom — freedom to be safe from COVID-19, freedom over their own bodies, freedom to learn, freedom to vote and participate in our democracy.

Years ago, the Republican Party had a coherent idea about limiting the role of government and protecting the rights of the individual. I disagreed with it, as did much of the rest of America. But at least it was honest, reasoned and consistent. As such, Republicans played an important part in a debate over what we wanted for ourselves and for America.

Today, Republican politicians have no coherent view. They want only to be reelected, even if that means misusing government to advance a narrow and increasingly anachronistic set of values — intruding on the most intimate aspects of life, interfering in what can be taught and learned, risking the public’s health, banning what’s necessary for people to exercise their most basic freedoms.

This is not mere hypocrisy. The Republican Party now poses a clear and present threat even to the values it once espoused.

— — —

(Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of “The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It.”)

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