Talking Turkey About Limited Government
Posted on November 28, 2008
After a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner -- prepared largely by my wife -- the in-laws and I adjourned to a local drinking establishment to digest our meals, have a few laughs, and of course, talk about the state of the world.
My brother-in-law, a small government conservative, loudly complained about the bailout of Wall-Street, the size and scope of the federal government, the out-of-control spending of the Republicans in the Congress, and generally the weak state of our nation’s finances.
I agreed with him on all fronts, although as a Washington “insider”, I have gained perhaps a cynical appreciation of the difficulties of the easy solutions he sometimes proposed.
Where my brother-in-law says we should let the banks and the auto companies go bankrupt, I wonder about how this will affect the already weak job situation in this country.
Where my brother-in-law complains that government is too big and that we need a balanced budget amendment, I wonder where we can cut and wonder why, if balanced budgets are so great, do the state governments that have balanced budget amendments come to the feds asking desperately for money.
Where my brother-in-law complains about the out of control spending of the Republicans in Washington, I wonder how they could have curtailed spending on homeland security and defense as we fought two wars. Most of the increase in spending came in these two areas.
Where my brother-in-law complains about our high level of debt and our reliance on the Chinese to finance our way of life, I wonder how the Chinese can stop buying our debt without compromising their own future.
All conservatives want limited government. That is a constant mantra you hear from many pundits (including me). But what kind of limited government? And what does it do? Or better yet, what should it not do?
Should it play a role in regulating the financial markets? Health care? Hedge Funds? Toy safety? The Internet? The drug trade? Nutrition? Decency? Schools?
Defining what the government should regulate and what it should not is the key philosophical challenge of the moment for Republicans and for conservatives. Make the definition too broad and we risk becoming just another version of the Democratic Party. Make it too narrow and we risk becoming irrelevant.
The U.S. Constitution is always a useful document to guide us in this discussion. It gives a pretty good guide to decide what the Federal government should concern itself with and what it should leave to the states or to the people.
But it is hard to argue that the founders understood all of intricacies of the modern world, this era of instant communication, the power of the Internet, the danger from stateless terrorists, the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
I imagine that plenty of people around the country had similar discussions during their Thanksgiving dinners about the state of our economy and the very deep concerns about how our nation’s future unfolds.