In case you missed it, NPR put out a great report on how the for-profit prison industry assisted in getting Arizona’s anti-illegal immigration law on the books. It’s well worth reading the whole thing, as it shows how things that appear to be “grassroots” or being driven by the anger of everyday people are actually far more cynical efforts by special interests to boost their own bottom lines.
One aspect of this story, however, really jumped out at me:
It was last December at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C. Inside, there was a meeting of a secretive group called the American Legislative Exchange Council. Insiders call it ALEC.
It’s a membership organization of state legislators and powerful corporations and associations, such as the tobacco company Reynolds American Inc., ExxonMobil and the National Rifle Association. Another member is the billion-dollar Corrections Corporation of America — the largest private prison company in the country.
“ALEC is the conservative, free-market orientated, limited-government group,” said Michael Hough, who was staff director of the meeting.
Hough works for ALEC, but he’s also running for state delegate in Maryland, and if elected says he plans to support a similar bill to Arizona’s law.
That’s right. Not only are there state legislators around the country who enact laws that directly benefit private for-profit companies who build and run prisons (whose profits come directly from taxpayers, of course), but these legislators have the nerve to refer to that as “limited-government.”
There are a lot of misused and misunderstood terms in our political discourse – from socialist to libertarian to fascist – but I’m not sure any of that has been anywhere near as cynical as how the term “limited-government” has been used. It’s now been attached to the belief that we need to round up illegal immigrants en masse and house them in prisons (the 4th Amendment be damned!). And this is not an anomaly. I see this sentiment repeatedly on right-wing Tea Party blogs. There’s a weird kind of cognitive dissonance going on where the presence of large numbers of undocumented migrant workers is indicative of “big government” and the effort to arrest them all and put them in prison is “limited government”. The Tea Party movement, which we’re repeatedly told believes in “limited-government”, only believes in it as a slogan, not as an actual coherent political philosophy.