May 31 2013

Should We Trust Big Government?

Patrice Lee

The series of scandals plaguing the Obama Administration have given Americans reason to pause about the motivations and actions of a government that’s too powerful. But is it enough to combat the big government fever that has taken root over the past decade? Can it be sustained for political change? I hope so.

Running through the veins of regular Americans is a healthy mistrust for big government. It’s a condition we inherited from the Founders of this country that has inoculated subsequent generations.

Unfortunately, distressing economic conditions during various periods of history such as the Great Depression and the more recent recession siphoned some of that wariness. Government expansionists rallied the electorate by dazzling them with new benefits that feed the federal behemoth. These programs are hard to implement and harder to remove – think social security and Obamacare. Limited government advocates have been shamed into the corner and painted as extremists.

Big government fever eventually recedes as Americans realize the costs to our economy, social fabric and liberty. Limited government values emerge as the more efficient, effective and principled of the governance choices.

But larger swaths of Americans are benefiting from government largesse than nearly any other time in history. Pew research found that more than half (55%) of Americans have at one time received benefits from one of six federal safety net programs. According to recent data, Social Security Disability Insurance rolls have swelled to a record high of 8.85 million Americans in March 2013. That’s up 1.6 million people (21%) since the start of the recent recession.

In this environment do limited government advocates have a new chance to combat the philosophy that government is the answer to economic hardship and the tractable problems of society?

Peter Wehner, former adviser to George W. Bush and now a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, thinks there’s hope:

“I’m not sure it’s an inflection point, but it’s a big moment.

“The conservative case for limited government, and the conservative case against Big Government, probably got a big boost.” Wehner said, cautioning: “It’s hard to tell what the effects are going to be on the public, because I think the public’s views are pretty settled. I think they tend to be for limited government, but they’re not libertarians.”

Add to this that so many more Americans are receiving government benefits and you have a real challenge.

If nothing else the IRS’s discriminatory scrutiny of conservatives and DOJ’s wire tapping of press remind Americans that a healthy mistrust of over-reaching government action is warranted. Politicians and bureaucrats make sweeping promises and engineer plans to remove the uncertainty of life and improve our conditions. Yet, these schemes fail and often miserably so. Most dangerously, we trade some of our freedoms and autonomy in exchange.

Mistrust of government was enough to sweep a new brand of limited government advocates into office during the last midterm elections. If that unease can be sustained among conservatives/libertarians and boosted among centrists (especially those who shift away from receiving government benefits) – things bode well for 2014. 2016 is a long ways away though.

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