The issue at hand is not about whether we should have a large welfare state, one that has irreversibly affected our personal lives and which engages continuously in massive social engineering. That issue was settled decades ago, with the support of both parties and their electorates.
When talking to Europeans, I find it hard to explain that our Republicans are not wild-eyed anarchists working to dynamite the government. They are part of the problem and much closer to the moderate welfare-state parties in European countries than a group devoted to “getting government off our backs.” Our national parties exhibit certain rhetorical tics because their voters get their jollies out of listening to this noise. This may be the reality of American exceptionalism: We embrace political rhetoric that no one actually believes but which both parties seem to relish. We act as if we”re sitting back and deciding: “Should we have a state and if so, how large should it be?” We act as if that question is still up in the air.
This debate is so removed from political practice that I sometimes find myself applauding the designated left, at least on theoretical grounds. I agree that there is a need for some kind of state, and I am willing to have it assist those in dire material need. On a purely theoretical level, I stand more often with the organicists and communitarians than with the radical individualists, who want each person to sink or swim alone. When it comes to the practical details, I would give our present welfare state no more power than it has presently grabbed, and I would be delighted to have it reduced to a shadow of its present self. That is because I view the existing government as harmful to traditional social relations as well as being unwilling to leave us alone.
Before I depart this vale of tears, I would welcome this honest statement of purpose by GOP hacks and GOP politicians:
If given power, we will do nothing to reduce the size and scope of government, but we may try to make it function a bit more efficiently if we can manage that without losing our patronage power. Moreover, we will treat our voters as adults rather than as the lovers of empty phrases they”ve shown themselves to be.
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