A funny thing is happening on the way to the ballot box. Voters of all stripes decry the excesses of big government. The reflexive complaint from both ends of the political spectrum, although voiced most loudly by conservatives and tea drinkers, is that big government is inherently bad, a foregone conclusion needing no evidence for proof. It’s a lot like religion that way. “I believe in God, so therefore there must be a God.” “I believe big government is evil, so therefore it must be true.”
It’s curious that the louder the screams about government size, the fewer practical suggestions the screamers give regarding how to make it smaller. There’s the all or nothing crowd – the government shouldn’t do anything but maintain an army. Or, the “limited” governmental types who want to lop off entire government departments, like the Department of Education, Federal Reserve, or Department of Homeland (In)Security. But, there’s precious little in the way of a platform to explain how we’ll reach this government nirvana.
Saying No is Fun
You might expect voters wouldn’t clamor for details. After all, it’s great fun to go watch Glenn Beck scream political science screeds or wave protest signs or accuse people of being anti-Christ socialists. It’s also great to campaign and hear the yelps of Grizzly Mommas in full-throated rapture about how wonderful you are. But the day in and day out grind of actually governing or even setting goals … not so much. In other words, the universal Republican “plan” for everything – “NO” – gives voters, candidates, and sitting politicians the chance to be righteous without the responsibilities of righteousness.
Come to think of it, that’s a little like some religious folks too.
There are roughly 308 million citizens in the US. That means there are at least 308 million opinions on how to reduce the government. Farmers kind of like crop subsidies, especially if their name is Farmer ConAgra. Some people are really behind “drill baby, drill”, without the inconvenient fact that without government regulation, a well might one day pop up in their backyard.
“Take that you NIMBY bastards!”
The “local levelites” don’t want an Islamic center in Manhattan, but are unwilling to accept the decisions of the local planning commission. And Reaganites complain, for example that transportation decisions be made on a state-by-state basis. However, they don’t seem to realize that building a road is building a road whether Uncle Sam funds it or your state increases taxes to offset the downsizing of Federal tax dollars. And, the private enterprisers would be the loudest to complain if RoadCo ran the highways and every country lane and freeway in their state started charging tolls.
Immutable Laws of Government
Americans need to understand a few immutable laws of government and human nature. First, nobody wants a bigger government. Second, everybody wants a smaller government so long as it gets smaller at someone else’s expense. Third, everyone wants the government to work. And fourth, those elected will become “inside” professional politicians as soon as they take their hand off the swearing-in Bible. They will be in your business for good and ill from then on as a result. This is especially true if you want the government to decide who gets married, who serves in the armed forces, who gets government assistance, and dozens of other meat and potatoes governmental decisions that must be made to support your idea of how smaller government should stay out of your life.
American individualism is a great strength. It’s the engine that drove the idea of American exceptionalism in the last century. But, when individualists forget there’s such a thing as shared goals and common needs that strength becomes a drag on the country.
Especially when you and the other 307,999,999 of us can’t agree on just what small government means.
Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!