Digby wrote a very good article on Wednesday, The Daddy State Strikes Again. It’s about the House of Representatives’ vote to ban abortions past 20 weeks. It’s an amazing, if highly fashionable, move. As Digby noted, “Meanwhile, with their hands firmly implanted in women’s vaginas, they went on to denounce big government and federal interference in their wallets.” But it is more than that. And given that most people — especially in the mainstream media — don’t seem to understand it, I think it needs to be repeated as often as possible: the conservative movement is not about individual rights and small government.
Matt Bruenig writes a lot about how the non-aggression principle does no philosophical work. The reason is because who exactly is doing the aggression is dependent upon the rules that we set down. If I don’t accept the existence of private property and you throw me off your land, the issue is our ideas about property. If property rights are valid, then I am the aggressor because I came on your property; if property rights are invalid, then you are the aggressor because I did nothing wrong. The issue is our definition of property rights. You can’t just assume that your property rights are divinely given and so you are not an aggressor even while you manhandle me.
The same is going on with the ridiculous notion that conservatives are for small government and liberals are for big government. The size of government is totally irrelevant. It means absolutely nothing when conservatives claim that they are for “small government.” For one thing, what does “small government” mean? As a point of modern politics, what it means is that conservatives want the government to be as small as possible (even nonexistent) when it comes to the functions that they don’t like. But liberals feel exactly the same way and they don’t go around pretending that they are for “small government.”
Let’s look at the military. The United States spends almost as much money as the rest of the world combined. The last time I checked, the US spent 48% of all the money the world spends on military. So we spend 48% and the rest of the world spends 52%. Yet it is very hard to find a conservative who doesn’t think that we spend too little on the military. Even fake libertarian Rand Paul now wants to increase military spending. So when it comes to that, conservatives are for “big government.”
As the recent vote in the House indicates, the conservatives would make abortion illegal if they could. And once they did that, it would be just like the War on Drugs. There would be a War on Abortion. And the truth is that I doubt there would be any limit that the conservatives would be in favor of in fighting that war. They would certainly pass a law that required doctors to report cases of abortion attempts or botched abortions. I can even imagine them making it illegal to go outside the country to get an abortion. No government is too big when it comes to pushing conservative policy.
And do you know what? I think that’s fine! But let’s fight about the laws. I will give no ground to the conservatives on the issue of being for “small government.” They aren’t. In fact, they are for the kind of government that is most invasive. And that’s what we should be discussing. Conservatives and liberals believe in different things. But neither has any idea of the optimal size of government — except that it should be just big enough to do the things that we want it to.