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August 31, 2011

"When 'inconsequential' means 'better'"

Jeff Jacoby does an excellent job taking on an argument I am seeing more and more often. Liberals--or Progressives, as some of them would prefer to be know these days--point to some federal government program, argue it is highly worthwhile, and then say, "See what we would lose if the conservatives get their way?" Jacoby summarizes a couple of recent versions:

Commenting on Twitter as the Texas governor announced his presidential candidacy, longtime Washington journalist Howard Kurtz wondered: “Perry wants to make DC ‘inconsequential in your life.’ Does that include Medicare, Soc Sec, vets’ programs, air safety, FDA?’’ Former Bobby Kennedy aide Jeff Greenfield ran through a litany of Washington’s contributions to American life - from railroads, interstate highways, and the Hoover Dam to land-grant colleges, civil rights, and subsidized mortgages - and marveled at the depth of the right’s “disdain for all things Washington.’’

Jacoby responds:

But it isn’t highways or veterans’ programs or minority voting rights that conservatives find so objectionable about Washington. When Perry speaks of making the nation’s capital “inconsequential,’’ he isn’t proposing to dismantle the Hoover Dam. Hard as it may be for liberals to accept, the Republican base isn’t motivated by blind loathing of the federal government, or by a nihilistic urge to wipe out the good that Washington has accomplished.

What conservatives believe, rather, is what America’s Founders believed: that government is best which governs least, and that human freedom and dignity are likeliest to thrive not when power is centralized and remote, but when it is diffuse, local, and modest.


Here's another reply: the federal government has been spending hundreds of billions--now trillions--of dollars each year. Surely, some of them provide some good for at least some Americans. But it's a logical fallacy--the fallacy of composition--that an example or two proves that the entire federal budget is being spent well.

Or: get back to me when the federal budget is spent largely on interstate highways, land-grant colleges, and civil rights. I'll wait.


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What we want is a slender efficient and limited government that can be more effective in the things that a central government should be doing.

Instead of a bloated leviathan destroying all of our substance while pursuing chimeras of social engineering.


Perry's no Green. He wouldn't dismantle Hoover Dam. Greens would.


I have a blind loathing of government.

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