Saturday, December 24, 2011

Big Government Conservatives

In the few seconds he was allotted- before an uncomfortable Christiane Amanpour changed the subject- Barney Frank did a bang up job. But more could have been said.

This Week has begun a series in which two liberals and two conservatives square off debating the size of government. Last week, George Will was confronted by Barney Frank, who stated

It's a great embarrassment to the conservatives. They want to tell people who they can have sex with. Come on, all this is big government. Who can I have sex with? Who can I marry? What can I read? What can I smoke? You guys, on the whole- not all of you- but the conservatives are the ones who intrude on personal liberty there.

Actually, Barney Frank has been allowed to have sex with anyone he wants since the U.S. Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 struck down the anti-sodomy law in Texas, which had the effect of invalidating all such laws in the handful of states which still had them.

Still, point well made, as reflected in the relief apparent felt by Will and Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) when Amanpour hastily moved on.

Nevertheless, if conservatives limited their criticism to 'big government' to what they believe is its deleterious impact in certain areas- e.g., regulation of the energy industry- they would be expressing a legitimate, albeit generally unjustified, concern.

But, no. At least since the days of President Reagan, who raised condemnation of the public sector to an art form as only an actor can do, the right has indiscriminately denounced big government. Most famously, painting with as broad a stroke as possible, Reagan upon taking office declared "in the present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."

Less famously, President Reagan then proceeded to preside over an explosion in the size of the federal government. In real terms, federal spending increased an average of 2.5% per year while the national debt skyrocketed (in absolute terms) from $700 billion to $2.8 trillion. And as this graph from Angry Bear indicates, the number of civilian employees (per capita) therein has never been so great as it was in the administration of the great conservative icon.

Barney Frank, given the time, might have mentioned the great Reagan paradox- hailed as the conservative savior, the 40th President, were he to pursue those policies today, probably would be viewed as governing from the center, leaning to the left.

That is in the context of an attack on government which, on the matter of culture, goes beyond marijuana, pornography, and gay relationships to the issue of reproductive freedom.
While the right to obtain an abortion remains under attack from the right, family planning has been abridged throughout the nation. Generally, this has come from the GOP but the centrist Obama administration has joined in with its decision on Plan B. Though the President claimed that young girls should not be able to buy Plan "alongside gums or batteries" (hardly likely to occur), the decision by his HHS Secretary will mean that druggists will be required to keep (pretension alert!) Levonorgestrel behind the counter, unavailable to anyone except by specific request. Too much government is horrific, say conservatives and sometimes Barack Obama; but when it comes to determining where a pharmacist can place his/her products, the government will step in and put the hammer down.

The libertarian spirit of the right is alive and well- except when it can conveniently be shelved, only behind the counter.

And to all, a Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, or joyous December 25.


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