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"Small government" vs. "Big government"

Jonah Goldberg writes about the changing nature of conservatism, implicitly lamenting the rise of several conservative movements which he perceives to be "cris de coeur" against what he labels "mainstream conservatism."  It's a perceptive piece.  There does seem to be an increased reluctance on the part of many people identifying themselves as conservatives to repeat the mantra of "small government, small government" that we've heard so often since 1980.

Perhaps that's because the pernicious consequences of a government too "small" to reign in big business is now obvious to see?  That's certainly my biggest beef with both the Reaganites and the libertarians, the latter of which are at least consistent enough not to forget about limited government when it comes to military adventurism abroad.  Power vacuums will quickly be filled.  When government doesn't fill it, big business will.  That's the great Libertarian Blind Spot -- the mystifying refusal to acknowledge the threats to liberty from massive concentrations of private economic power.  Back in the Carter years we may have been suffering from a government that was "too big," but unlike Goldberg I think we've deregulated ourselves way too much, and now find ourselves with a government that's far "too small."

At any rate, the argument over the size of government is a bit absurd, because as Gary Hart used to say, no one really wants government to go away, we all just want it to give us different things.  Rod Dreher sums it up pretty well for me: "I favor a government big enough to keep big business from running over little people, but a government small enough to be defeated by little people when it tries to run over them too."  Although I'm far more liberal than Dreher, I think he's captured the absurdity of "small government" vs. "big government" rhetoric very well.  What we're all really arguing about is "good government."

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