Big Government is Back in Style

By Alan Stewart Carl | Related entries in Conservatism, General Politics, Ideas, Liberalism

Not so long ago, “Big Government” was so out of favor that Democratic President Bill Clinton announced its era had come to an end. A decade later and it seems there’s no end in sight to the swelling of our federal government. The Republicans proved themselves greedy and incompetent and did little to rein in spending and now Democrats are poised to take on significant power and flood our nation with government-funded initiatives. William Galston, writing for The American Prospect sees this as a good thing.

To respond effectively to our long-term challenges, the federal government must command an increased share of gross domestic product and extend its reach in other ways as well. The public sector will be called upon to provide new forms of insurance against economic risks and volatility and to assume more responsibility for health insurance and retirement security. To the extent that markets cannot police themselves or provide reasonable returns for workers, government will have to step in. Through the public mobilization of capital and will, we must supply the public goods–investment in infrastructure, research, and post-secondary education, among others–that we have neglected at our peril. And many millions of Americans will be unable to save for the future without new forms of public encouragement and support.

That’s enough to make any conservative rip out his or her own hair. It’s not that liberals like Galston want to use government to help citizens (that part is fine), it’s that they see government intervention as the only conceivable solution, as if the American people are too helpless and too victimized by Big Business and Free Trade to ever improve their lives without massive new government programs.

To be clear, Galston’s specific remedies aren’t inherently bad. Some are even good (like investing more in our infrastructure). My beef is with the cocksure attitude that only government can solve our problems. And, while Galston doesn’t say so specifically, there’s this underlying implication to his argument that those who are against big government are somehow in favor of the inequities currently plaguing our system – as if an opposition to liberal theory is proof of ill will.

And yet, Galston’s side is poised to win in this era because conservatives are failing to voice a strong alternative. Too often conservative “solutions” sound like do-nothing policies (which is, in fact, the party line against John McCain’s health care plan). It’s not enough to just say “no” to big government. There has to be an alternative, a Reaganism not of 1980 but of 2008, revamped for the modern age.

What government should be doing is helping create opportunity. Government should not step in to solve every problem an American may face but should instead just make sure there is a system of opportunities available to any American with the will and work ethic to take advantage of this nation’s great gifts. Some of Galston’s ideas are indeed about expanding opportunity but many others are just New Deal style handouts disguised as fancy modern ideas.

But at least Galston and his political brethren are assembling a coherent (if flawed) vision.

It’s time for modern conservatives to do the same – to scramble out of the weeds of yesteryear and realize demanding “small government” is no longer enough, especially after the Republicans have squandered any credibility they had on the issue. I believe we can tackle pressing problems with far less governmental intrusiveness. The task is to figure out how that can be done and convince others of its advantages.


This entry was posted on Monday, June 9th, 2008 and is filed under Conservatism, General Politics, Ideas, Liberalism. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses to “Big Government is Back in Style”

  1. Avinash_Tyagi Says:

    Conservatives had their chance Alan, and all they did was create a series of recessions, the current one being potentially one of the worst in our history and massive debt. They failed

  2. Dr. Saturn Says:

    The only candidate to offer a real common-sense coherent conservative vision was/is called a kook and “has no chance to win”. The electorate don’t seem to want a vision – I think the fact that the socialist democrats have a vision at all is merely coincidental to their support.

  3. Can’t run restaurants | [H] Hegemonic Pundit Says:

    [...] run a couple of restaurants why would we want them to take over the healthcare industry and then who knows what else? Year after year, decade upon decade, the U.S. Senate’s network of restaurants has lost [...]

  4. Hegemon Says:

    And yet big government has yet to prove that it can run much of anything without huge losses…

    Senate Votes To Privatize Its Failing Restaurants

  5. gerryf Says:

    Could we please put an end to thje big lie about Conservatives and big government–and especially the veneration of Reagan and his bogus role in it?

    Reagan and the GOP that has followed him has nothing to do with smaller government–instead,it was removing controls on corporations, allowing them to enrich themselves and increase power–and as a result the typical American has been screwed.

    Even a half conscious economics 101 “C” student can see that Reagan didn’t shrink government. Sure, he cut regulations and oversight, but government spending increased from $591 billion to $990 billion during his time in office. Don’t like absolutes because the economy grew? OK, Federal spending as percent of GNP in 1980 was 21.6%, and after six years of Reagan, 24.3%.

    That’s BIGGER government.

    Add to that his miserable record on budget deficits (Carter, who Reagan belched vile at for deficit spending saw his largest deficit reach $74 billion) where he practically institutionalized $200 billion deficits as standard operating procedure.

    Listen, I am not saying that Glason is right, but stop digging up the corpse of Reagan as some paragon of fiscal conservancy. It’s just wrong.

    The other thing wrong with this post is that it continues the big lie about Democrats and fiscal irresponsibility.

    This tax and spend liberal scare tactic used by the right to smear the left is old and tired–and any reasonable person who looks up the facts should dismiss it. The only presiodent to even attempt fiscal responsibility in the last 20 years was a Democrat–you cannot say “budget surplus” and Reagan, Bush I or Bush II in the same sentence with out illiciting laughs.

    Tax and spend liberal may be the greatest con job in hte history of political salesmanship.

    Just because soem left leaning economist says he wants to open the flood gates does not mean an Obama presidency is going to do so.

    Obama has been very clear that fiscal responsibility is important and advocates things like PAYGO Rules (pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) budgeting rules which require new spending commitments or tax changes to be paid for by cuts to other programs or new revenue); reversing the insane ush tax cuts; cutting pork barrel spending: making government spending more Accountable and efficient; and ending easteful government spending (obsolete government programs, an end to subsidies, wasteful spending in Medicare, etc).

    You’re right, government should not step in and solve every problem, but government can create an environment that benefits the majority of American as opposed to just the wealthy elite–which is what the Republicans have been doing for the past 30 years.

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