We Hate Big Government, Except When We Don’t


Mark of New Jersey

Mark is a Founding Editor of The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, the predecessor of Ordinary Times.

Related Post Roulette

45 Responses

  1. Avatar zic says:

    As a liberal, I find the “big government” argument silly.

    Government’s size is not a measure of it’s function. Good government that delivers good service based on what services people decide they want/need, seems the better measure. I’d like a government with a simplified tax code, a government that provides good transportation and education systems, a judicial system that functions for all (instead of only functioning for those who can afford a lawyer,) and a government that stays out of my personal life.

    It’s size? Who cares, if it does what it’s supposed to do.Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to zic says:

      I would be pretty happy with a government that looks like that (with some tweaks on your education point), and no more. I mostly agree with the notion that “Small Government” is a silly thing to focus on…limited government, however, is another story, since that’s a function of government power rather than size. Still, if you’re going to complain and complain about budget deficits and Big Government, etc., then complaining when a program like the moon landings gets cut…well, it requires some pretty severe cognitive dissonance.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        Moon landings, Ag subsidies, much of the defense budget could be chopped and I’d be happy. Same with prohibition laws and their accompanying budgets.

        Limited government that helps people lead productive lives is good. And I don’t mind paying for it.

        But politics does seem to be an art rooted in cognitive dissonance. Me, I prefer dissonant jazz, and would like to see the arts better funded. Call it my own personal moon landing. But that’s the rub, everyone’s got something they think deserves a buck or two, don’t they?Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:


    It reminds me of one of the regular complaints against Bush during his administration.

    “HE’S RUINING THE COUNTRY!!!” was the refrain until he went on vacation at which point it became “HE’S SPENDING TOO MUCH TIME ON VACATION!!!”

    Erm, guys? At that point you sort of give the game away. It has nothing to do about principle… only about finding things worth yelling at the top of your lungs.

    When I told them that one would think that they’d wish he’d spend more time in Crawford, they always looked at me like I was defending him.Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Jaybird says:

      If only the partisans of the Right and Left could see just how perfectly they reversed roles on January 20, 2009. The symmetry really is astounding.Report

      • Avatar Kyle in reply to Mark Thompson says:

        It’s really is quite astounding…though I find it telling that being in the majority seems to have no discernible effect on the tenor of strident criticism only the smugness with which it is leveled.

        One wonders if being a governing majority is something of a white elephant these days.

        After all the same people Jay is mentioning are the same ones who are criticizing the GOP for watering down the stimulus beyond use in one breath and then criticizing the GOP for not even bothering to negotiate on/water down healthcare in the other.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Kyle says:

          There is no such thing as a governing majority any more given current practice, or at least this one is not sufficient to govern policy. That is precisely the point. If the majority could simply enact its policies and then be judged by whether they work or not, your complaint about the majority’s complaints would be entirely well-received. But procedural obstacles previously intended only to prevent extreme measures in ordinary times have been expanded to the point where they prevent even reasonable measures from being enacted for what are extraordinary times. This absurdness causes traditionally rational arguments such as the one you make here to take on an unfortunate absurdity of their own. The current majority leadership would like nothing more than to have the kind of unchecked control over policy at a time of great challenge for the country that you claim they have, so that they could guide policy in the way they think best serves the country — but they do not have it. This is unfortunate, because in this case their narrow self-interest (assuming that includes retaining their incumbency) aligns with the interest of the country (assuming one agrees this includes economic recovery). It would take no more than a tiny handful of the opposition joining with the majority out of the simple principle you are espousing — majority rule and responsibility for the consequences (and in fact this handful could in all likelihood escape the consequences the majority would face should their policies fail by merely making clear this was the reason for their acquiescence, not substantive agreement) in order for the majority to gain this amount of freedom of action. Instead what we see from the opposition is simply the plain result of pursuing their narrow interest (which is their right as Mr. Thompson has pointed out), namely the denial to the majority of the prerogative to set policy in exchange for a clear agreement to be judged on results, which necessarily guarantees the majority’s failure to deliver ether the policies or the results, and therefore narrow political gain for the minority. This minority has since the last national election clearly maintained the ability to obstruct, and has exercised it. This majority, then, is not a governing one.Report

          • Avatar Kyle in reply to Michael Drew says:

            The majority is not a governing one because the Democrats can’t keep their house in order. That’s the first and last reason.

            All the misdirection and complaints about Republican obstructionism grossly overstate GOP influence in Congress. We’ve been hearing for months about various Democratic plans to improve America, make it better, etc… Apparently a majority of Americans want health care reform, apparently they need an energy bill. The only thing that needed to happen was for the Democratic party, the President’s party, to get 100% agreement in one chamber and 85% agreement in the other.

            It seems to me that if your own party can’t agree on which solutions should become the law of the United States of America, it’s poor form to criticize others’ skepticism.

            As for the blocking all meaningful business, I seem to recall a vote for Bernake that was solidly bipartisan.Report

            • Avatar greginak in reply to Kyle says:

              Kyle- I’ve never understood your carrying water for the R’s. I don’t see any Liberal or D defending the D’s lack of passing stuff. In fact there has been a force 5 poop storm directed at the D’s by other D’s and liberals for that. That in no way excluds the possibility that the R’s have been massively obstructing the gov. Requiring a supermajority for every procedural motion is not designed for debate, its designed to gum up the works so nothing gets done. Requiring a supermajority is designed to cause problems with the other side. Putting a record number of holds on appointments is designed make it difficult to run government. There is still no head of the TSA. I’m not a fan of the TSA in general, but if we have it, then it should have head.

              Its entirely possible for things to have more then one cause.

              The word for the day, again, is Mutli-causal.Report

              • Avatar Kyle in reply to greginak says:

                Hey look, I’ve criticized the holds so it’s not like I’m giving Republicans a free pass. And don’t mistake criticizing one side as carrying water for the other, as the president might say, I reject that false choice.

                Part of it is I really don’t like when the powerful make complaints that reduce down to how the less powerful a.) are less than acquiescent or b.) have the temerity to question dominance.

                Quite honestly, I really fail to see how when one’s preferred party controls the legislative and executive branches of the most powerful and wealthy nation in the world, arguably in history, you have a right to complain about your lack of opportunity to wield as much power as you like.

                When Michael says, “The current majority leadership would like nothing more than to have the kind of unchecked control over policy at a time of great challenge for the country that you claim they have, so that they could guide policy in the way they think best serves the country — but they do not have it.” Then proceeds to say how the opposition should not obstruct them and simply agree to judge them on the results, I find that to be a terribly unconvincing statement of either problem or solution.

                The problem isn’t that Harry Reid can’t get anything done because the Republicans are forcing him to be on his A game. The problem is that Harry Reid doesn’t have control of his caucus and while his reliance on his caucus is the fault of say the American people who elected his opposition and his more difficult members, the fundamental problem is still his lack of control of his caucus. The solution here isn’t to sit around and ask the minority to quit playing, it’s to sit the Democrats down, slap em around, and get their heads in the game.

                Look I may have policy disagreements with people and parties, but this isn’t about the policies, this is about the game. Hearing Michael’s complaint is like hearing the Colts complain that the Detroit Lions are playing unconventionally and not losing as badly as they should be. The Democrats are playing a lousy, lousy game and the sad part is it’s not a game, it’s real life. What I’m upset about, what I think liberals should be upset about is not that Republicans are a tactical opposition but that a “team” that should be far, far better than it is right now, is FAILballs and a lot of people who have problems that need solutions aren’t getting them.

                You and I could probably share a beer and some choice words about some so-called Democratic centrists but now that Democrats don’t have a 60 seat majority anymore, I – like many – expect the Republicans to step the plate.Report

              • Avatar Kyle in reply to greginak says:

                Sorry, I was a little testy there. It rankles me that people who drape themselves in how much they fight for the poor and downtrodden to get ahead in life refuse to put any of that on the line to you know actually help the poor and downtrodden. I question their commitment and criticize their lazy excused.

                Also, I’ve always agreed with your multi-causal views. In the earlier comment I was focusing more on the style and strategy, not the policies where I think more nuance is necessary.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

                Remember all those essays explaining to Republicans that they didn’t have any credibility on fiscal conservativism due to how Bush and the Republican Congress and the Republican Senate acted between 2004 and 2006?

                Have you started a rough draft of the one you are going to be asked to write?Report

  3. Avatar Sam M says:

    “Either you’re for limited government, or your not. You don’t get to pick and choose the areas where you think limited government is good and bad and still claim to be an advocate for limited government on the whole. ”

    Is this true at all? If you are for a national defense, you MUST support farm subsidies? Being for Head Start commits you, ideologically, to supporting midnight basketball? Does arguing for increased funding for vo-tech programs mean I lose all standing to argue against a new educational program aimed at increasing self-esteem?

    This seems like an exercise in free-market one-upsmanship. I remember being on a bus with a bunch of libertarians in college. They got in an argument about who was “purer.” The thrust was that if you do not think it should be illegal to sell black-tar heroine from a vending machine across the street from a kindergarten, they you cannot logically support medical marijuana.

    This strikes me as wrong.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Sam M says:

      Is it a private kindergarten or a state-funded one?Report

    • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Sam M says:

      I get your point, and obviously this was intended as a bit of polemicism. But I think the key here is that the entire theme that is being sounded against Obama is that he’s a Big Government Liberal – that’s the message that everyone has settled on. To then complain when Obama actually tries to make a cut….well, it’s not exactly good messaging. It does, however, help to explain how our deficit situation got so bad even before Democrats got back in control of Congress, much less in control of Congress and the Presidency.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Sam M says:

      Sounds like you’re arguing against a two-party system.

      So more options that didn’t lead to rancid sausage would be nice.Report

  4. Avatar Madrocketscientist says:

    I like it, I’m glad NASA is being made to step back from this. First off, there is very little pure space research that needs to be done with humans driving the experiment. Sure, there is some, but most of the NASA manned space flights are PR events that happen to do science, not science experiments that really need people.

    Second, while it is great that NASA plowed the road into space, and they will always be remembered as the program that did that, it is long past time for them to step aside and let the rest of us try out different ways to exploit space.Report

  5. Avatar Kyle says:

    I think this is the wrong angle, Mark.

    First the President over learns the lessons of President Clinton, now he’s over learning the lessons of President Bush. I think his approach of bombing the moon and not putting boots on the ground is a mistake. Without any follow up, how will the moon know we mean business this time? Unlike Afghanistan and Iraq, the moon doesn’t have centuries old divisions along religious and tribal lines, I’m confident we could establish a peaceful, well-functioning democracy on the moon within months.Report

  6. Avatar Art Deco says:

    Either you’re for limited government, or you’re against it.

    Mr. Thompson, there are not many advocates for the political economy favored by Mao Tse-tung in this country. Everyone has some limits he favors.

    Being for it only when the Democrats try to create a program you don’t like, and against it whenever they cut a program that you do like….well, it kinda sends a mixed message.

    Well, I think I will continue to favor government programs I think advisable and oppose those I think inadvisable. Call me a hypocrite if you like.Report

  7. Avatar Old Rebel says:

    Amen to Brother Mark Thompson! Big Government inevitably leads to tyranny — something the pro-war, any war crowd forgot during the Bush years.Report

    • Avatar Art Deco in reply to Old Rebel says:

      Old Rebel, the salient change in the political ecosystem occurred during the years running from 1933 to 1955, when the mean ratio of public expenditure to domestic product increased from around 10% to about 35%. Since that time, this ratio has seen incremental adjustment and flux around a spot value, just like your weight. Tyranny is taking its time.Report

  8. Avatar Rufus says:

    I think there’s a certain overlap between enthusiasts of limited government and sci-fi. I know a fellow who complains constantly about government spending, to the point of claiming that the recession was caused primarily by the stimulus (yeah, I don’t quite understand that one…); but he’s also very angry every time cuts are suggested for NASA spending because he sees it as the death of hope for the future. He also reads a lot of sci-fi novels. I think maybe he believes we’re going to live on the moon.

    I don’t actually like the guy.Report

  9. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    Surely a person can still be for “limited government” even if he happens not to agree with the priorities of a another person who is for limited government. Right?Report

  10. Avatar historystudent says:

    Yep, conservatives (and all others) need to accept that cutbacks can’t simply affect 17% of federal spending because that just isn’t enough to fix our dire fiscal problem. All programs, all department should be vulnerable to budget reductions, including military spending.

    However, I’m not sure that across-the-board equal cuts are necessarily the most efficient or the most beneficial means of reducing our spending. Some programs/department are more valuable and more important than others. However, given that politicians (and we the people) cannot agree on which should be considered vital and what shouldn’t, the across-the-board method is, sensibly, the one that should be supported at this point.Report

  11. Avatar mike farmer says:

    Yes, the point is not which president is in office, or which party — the point is the system of government, and whether it’s limite or not. If Obama and the Democrats would start working to limit government and institutionalizng limitations, I’d be ecstatic, but they won’t — neither will the present Republican Party — our system of government is set up to expand power, regardless of which party is in power. We need major fundamenal changes, and the people are the only ones who can demand and make these changes. I think what we are seeing is a popular movement to get government under control — it’s not a partisan thing, but the party that resists the most will lose.Report