Conservatives and Libertarians are fond of saying that Liberals put too much faith in the power of “Big Government.” Some of them have even gone so far as to say that Liberals have a religious devotion to the Government, treating it, the claim goes, as a sort of omnipotent deity. (This rather libertarian-minded charge, incidentally, dovetails nicely with the Religious branch of the Conservatives’ deeply-held belief that Liberals are godless, hedonistic decadents.)
As I’ve mentioned before, I myself was once a libertarian, and I will confess that perhaps there is some truth to the claim that liberals believe overmuch in the power of government, though surely the idea that they see Government as God is rather hyperbolic. But that’s an issue for a different post.
For now, I wish to examine rather the conservatives’ view of government. For, if liberals overestimate the government’s power to good, I think the conservatives overestimate its power to do ill, or at least have a misguided view of what a government behaving badly might look like.
Conservatives spend entirely too much time nowadays harping on the theme of alleged tyranny by the U.S. government. It’s a dramatic thing to say, of course, and is surely likely to arouse people’s interest in small-government philosophy. And furthermore, it is certainly a good idea to be constantly vigilant for signs of tyranny. Did not all the tyrannical dictators of history arise because not enough people were wise enough to be on the lookout for the first hints of their plans?
It is my opinion that tyranny, dictatorship, Stalin-esque police states, etc., are the more terrible but (fortunately) far less common type of government failure. The problems the average, law-abiding U.S. citizen is likely to run across when dealing with the government stem not from dictatorial brutality, but instead from the dull inefficiency of a massive bureaucracy.
Now, I do understand why, say, the Tea Party crowd feels a need to talk more about tyranny and less about bureaucracy. Tyrannies are fun to rebel against, bureaucracies are boring. More importantly, the monstrous atrocities committed by tyrants litter the pages of World History, whereas the comparatively banal problems of bureaucracies are the stuff of dull Economics textbooks.
So, perhaps it is inevitable that Tea Party propaganda (to use the word in its neutral, Bernaysian sense) will always rely on the rather dramatic idea of the current Government engaging in Tyrannical and Authoritarian behavior. For propaganda, like humor, relies on exaggeration to make its point.
Nevertheless, I feel it is dangerous–indeed, potentially ruinous to the libertarian streak in the Tea Party–to continually argue against governmental brutality that, while no doubt a thing to be avoided and guarded against, is far less often a problem for the average citizen than is the near omnipresence of inefficient and incapable governmental red-tape.
Bureaucracy is a far less interesting thing to oppose; and is far harder to solve, but I believe that it is the true problem with “Big Government”.
All comments are welcome, and disagreement is encouraged.