Small Government: When 307,999,999 People Can’t Agree

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ALL FOR ONE AND NONE FOR ALL - Everybody wants smaller government, but only if it gets smaller at someone else's expense.

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.

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5 thoughts on “Small Government: When 307,999,999 People Can’t Agree

  1. Okay, perhaps they didn’t wake up and wonder how they could fulfill their dream of a gargantuan government but what they did want could only be accomplished by a larger government. Then as I see it, the problem of larger government is that it’s like a ratchet: it expands some but doesn’t retract. It expands a little (or a lot) more then more and more. The beast is like an amoeba that never divides; it just keeps on growing. Eventually, as you suggest, the thing just gets too large. There’s a reason there are no large, single cell creatures roaming or swimming the earth: once they get to a certain size, their size is no longer sustainable.

  2. Craig,
    Good points, although I don’t think any of those people got out of bed in the morning rubbing their hands together and saying, “What can I do to create a bigger government,” or a smaller one for that matter.

    I think even the most disengenuous of them thought they were working for “better” government or as you say about Obama, government “that works” and that’s a theory I can agree with. Having said that, I think most people in charge of something just can’t resist the pull of creating more power for themselves, ironically as a way of pushing their idea of “better” so people need to be realistic about what we should and can do.

    I’m not so much concerned with the size of my government as long as the people get more or less what what the people should get. In other words, bang for the buck. I don’t care if the government pays or administers my healthcare as much as I care that everyone gets something because I think that is best for the country. I also don’t think private enterprise or government is more successful at it…they equally suck at it as a matter of fact.

    Today, there’s a tendency for people to just say no or yes to everything based on a simplistic idea of what can and should be done without thinking about the implications. Defaulting to “small is good” or “big is best” are just two polls on the same line and equally bad. Government is givernment whether it comes from the White House or the stat house.

    As a nation we need to do a better job of deciding what we want to do and whether it is the “right” thing to do. It used to be we elected people who facilitated those decisions on our behalf. Now we elect people who tell us what we want to hear to be implemented or resisted by those who either don’t want to do it for politcal reasons or because they’ll make more money if the outcome sways their way…regardless of whether it is good for the country.

    I’m not sure there is an answer to this problem other than to let it get out of control as it always does from time to time so it collapses of its own weight and we can use the ruble to build anew when we get a look at what happens otherwise.

    It’s a hell of a way to run a railroad and a worse way to run a country. If the world just didn’t have so many people, everything wold be so much easier:-)

  3. At least we would have no more inane comments about bills such as “We’ll have to wait until it’s law to see how it works.” We damn well ought to know how bills will work before our legislators vote them into law.

  4. First, nobody wants a bigger government.

    I beg to differ. Obama wants a bigger government. His thing is not smaller government; it’s government that works.

    Heck, W. wanted a bigger government…and gave us one! A federal government that provides pharmaceuticals at taxpayer expense through his Medicare Part D program and which single-handedly changed how education is done in many places through the No Child Left Behind program.

    Indeed, almost the entire of our political class wants to enlarge (at least their particular segment of) government. Otherwise, surely there are enough federal laws on the books. (Have you ever browsed the US Code online? It’s huge for a central government that was supposed to stay the hell out of the way of states’ rights at its inception and was supposed to be limited to specifically enumerated powers to the point that many of its proponents saw no need for a bill of rights to be added.

    FDR wanted and gave us a larger government. Johnson wanted and gave us a bigger government. Those are just the obvious ones.

    My suggestion for finding a member of our political class that wants smaller government: find the legislator who will sponsor a bill that every bill must be read personally by every legislator and be demonstrably understood by each before it can be voted upon. I guarantee you, nothing would get done in Washington. Perhaps that wouldn’t shrink government but it would guarantee that it would not get any bigger! 😉

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