Conservatives Are Not for Small Government

Conservatives Selective Small GovernmentDigby 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.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

4 thoughts on “Conservatives Are Not for Small Government

  1. We already have a de facto travel restriction for abortion. Poor people can’t afford it. Certainly not to fly to Sweden and have it done. And often not even to take a bus across the state or to the next state, find lodging, perform the required number of visits, pay for the procedure, say hello to the charming sidewalk counselors, and miss work while all this is going on. Women of means can opt out of all of this, and would still be able to even in the Gilead dystopia the christian right wants. Laws are only for poor people. Same as it ever was.

    • Yes, this is why reproductive rights continue to be such a big issue to me: it is above all an economic issue. Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig is a liberal anti-abortion advocate and she’s been arguing for years that if we want to end abortion, we should provide guaranteed income and healthcare to mothers. Of course, 99% of those who want to end abortion also want to end welfare. It’s actually amazing to see the turn-around that Republicans do. When a woman is pregnant, she has basically no rights and the fetus has all the rights. Once born, it is the other way around — parental rights and all. But there is nothing but care for that fetus. Once born, it can starve to death. Whatever. God’s law has been upheld!

      • It’s almost like they aren’t being entirely honest about their true motivations. Never mind the bollocks, it’s the Sex Police!

        • Of the elites, certainly. The sad thing is that I think the laity really think they are following God’s word. What’s the matter with Kansas is not just that people are voting against their economic interests in the name of religious causes; the people are also voting against their religious causes — at least as far as I’m concerned.

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