9.07.2006

I hang around plenty of liberals whose opinions I respect enough to
even be persuaded. So it was nice to get back to my conservative
roots this past month through a book written in 1995 called
"Revolution at the Roots." Written in the wake of the historic 1994
elections, which brought an abrupt end to 60 years of big government,
the book calls for smaller government.

The book is surprisingly feisty towards the concurrent movement at the
time, that of "reinventing government." No one would argue that better
isn't, well, better, but "better government" isn't always preferable.
After all, if the government shouldn't be in the business of doing
something, it isn't a good thing to improve its performance; what's
preferable, rather, is to get government out of the business.

Perhaps it's just typical Americanness to always want to be bigger and
better. But in the case of government, bigger, even if it means
incrementally better, leaves us all worse. A dollar spent by the
government is one less dollar that could've been spent in the private
sector, perhaps in a more efficient and effective way.

It's not just wasted dollars, either; it's also atrophied civic
muscle. The government has done so much for us that we've completely
lost sight of personal and community responsibility. Back in the day,
people looked out for one another. We had voluntary fire companies,
we banded together in response to natural disasters, and we raised our
children to expect no free lunches.

Sometimes when people learn that I'm a fiscal conservative, they ask
me why I'm down on social programs. It's hard, for example, when a
great program that is federally funded and that is now on the chopping
block, to support the chopping. But that use of funds could be
redirected to a better use, as could the burden of responsibility.
It's not shame on the government for ceasing a program to help people;
it's shame on us for forgetting that we have the same responsibility
to serve.

Don't get me wrong: economically and organizationally, sometimes it
makes sense to do things in a massive, centralized, and bureaucratic
fashion. I'm too practical to be a total libertarian.

I do appreciate the libertarian sentiment, however. Take a look at
the Constitution, for one. This document, which I believe (said
tongue in cheek) is still the law of the land, greatly circumscribes
what the federal government can do. The list is short: wage war,
conduct foreign policy, levy taxes, regulate interstate and
international commerce, coin money, and establish post offices and
postal roads. That's it. The states have the power to do everything
else.

The book gives, as an example, the convoluted logic employed by people
who would want bigger government. A proposal to make it a federal law
prohibiting anyone from carrying a gun near a schoolyard was
Constitutionally justified by a lawyer with the following logic: guns
are bad for schools, education will suffer, therefore interstate
commerce will suffer, therefore the federal government has the right
to pass such a law. The problem here, of course, isn't whether you
think guns should be near schools, but rather whether this ought to be
a federal discussion. And (tongue still in cheek) if we're still
going to give the Constitution some influence in this day and age, you
can't possibly think this is a legitimate federal function.

Our civic muscle has so atrophied that we expect the government to do
everything and then lambast it when it doesn't. Shame on those in
elected office -- Republicans and Democrats -- for forgetting what
government is supposed to do and not do, and instead seeking to enrich
themselves and their friends via pork, earmarking, and other power
plays.

The government has become a beast, and it needs to be starved. It
would be a messy transition, both for politicians used to living fat
instead of governing as our founding fathers who have them govern; and
for us citizens used to passing the buck rather than taking
responsibility for ourselves, our children, and our communities. But
it is a transition that ought to be made.

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