Is it more important to stand on principle, or get while the getting is good? Is settling for half a loaf selling out, or a step in the right direction? Does mixing metaphors like concrete weigh prose down, or liberate the literary soul?
OK, no one but the grammar police really cares about that last one. But the first two will decide the limited government movement’s fate. That’s what’s splitting us right now, you see. Libertarian-leaners, classical liberals, and “establishment” conservatives are less divided by issues and objectives than we are about timelines and roadmaps. We all want to see the same movie, but we’re wearing ourselves out haggling over which showing and how to get there. And whatever we decide, the other guys will be there first. Let’s see if I can stick with one metaphor long enough to explain why.
The reason they’ll be there first is because they’re running the theater. Government employees are predominantly big government-type people. That’s not meant as a pejorative. It’s simple common sense. If you think government is the answer and you care about the question, you are more likely to migrate to government employment (it used to be government service, but the days of the dollar-a-year man are gone) than someone who sees government as the problem; or more likely, who sees private work or charity as the answer.
The simple fact is that when conservatives engage in the political and bureaucratic arena, it’s almost always an away game. One reason is noted in this excellent piece by Kevin Williamson: “[C]onservatives are forever in a position of running against handouts, and handouts are popular.”
Another reason, as alluded to above, is that big government-types see government “service” as their highest calling, and thus send their “A” team, while limited government-types send their “A” team to private pursuits. That’s a Thomas Sowell argument, by the way. I don’t claim to be that smart.
But I am smart enough to know that it’s folly to think we’re going to see revolutionary change in how government affects our lives overnight when our team doesn’t want anything to do with it, while the other team sees it as their life’s mission. We engage because we have to. They’re having fun with it. As with the media, and for much the same reasons, we will always be on the defensive when trying to dial back government powers and overreach. We can whine about it and wish it weren’t so, but it is.
The people who think they have all the answers and want to tell us how to live our lives will always migrate to government. The best we can hope for is to limit the harm they can do to the rest of us unenlightened souls who just want to be left alone, with a bureaucracy and political system that limits itself to the basic functions that only governments can do. If you want to know what those are, you could find a worse list than the one in this book.
We’re going to have to fight a million battles in the valley before we get anywhere near the limited government mountain (try to keep up; I’m back to an earlier metaphor). We’re going to have to accept small victories and put up with losses along the way. It would be good if we could agree on some basics of what we’re fighting for, and recognize whom we’re fighting against.