Note: This was a post written for VCAP last month that was never published. Although a bit out of date, I wanted to have it posted somewhere.
It seems to me that in recent years, at least from a national perspective, a critical part of conservatism has been forgotten. Sure, there are social conservatives and there are fiscal conservatives, but what about small government conservatives? Can you name any leader who still actively and unashamedly promotes conservatism in all three areas? There are still a few. As some folks have forgotten about it, I guess that I should first define what I mean by small government conservatism. Simply put, it is reducing the size and scope of the federal government to its constitutional boundaries. Now I believe there are many legitimate functions the national government serves, chief among them are defending her citizens from threats against their lives, liberty, and property, and performing tasks that either the states or individual citizens cannot do, like the creation of a uniform monetary system. And, although there are certainly differences between regions in the country, the government should respect and uphold the religious and cultural values that have defined our country and her people in various ways since colonization. Beyond these limited functions, the federal government should not and must not interfere. That, in my mind, is the basics of conservatism as it applied to the federal government.
There are many areas of power that the government has taken from the states and the people that it has no right to do so. For example, when the preamble mentions, “promoting the general welfare”, no conservative would ever take that to mean the creation of a welfare state where citizens (and even non-citizens) depend on the charity of the federal government (and, as a result, we the taxpayers). Although our liberal colleges would decry us as uncaring, the simple fact is that the government does not have these powers. We must reject the neo-conservative lie that big government is OK as long as Republicans are in control. Now I know I’ll get in trouble here, but the same fact applies to Social Security. Social Security is just a giant pyramid scheme promoted by the feds. As long as there are more citizens paying into the system than withdrawing, then no one notices the flaws in the plan, but when more withdraw, as is happening with the baby boomers now, the system collapses. Why in the world did we ever allow the government to get involved in retirement? Show me where they derive such authority? The problem with Social Security is that you cannot simply eliminate it tomorrow without terrible consequences. First and foremost, some folks planned their retirement around this pension and, if it were removed immediately, would force thousands upon thousands onto the streets. Second, there are many who have paid into the system who will never see a single dime of their own returned. The solution, in my mind, is not the easiest, but must be done. That is, fulfill the promises to the citizens on social security while phasing the program out entirely, returning the funds that each citizen put into the system. Will federal spending have to be cut to solve this problem? Of course. But, I believe this solution will help restore the government to its constitutional limited role and solve many more problems in the long run.
Getting back to my original point, how many supposedly conservative politicians talk about limited government solutions to these problems? I remember the presidential election of 1996 where Senator Dole, if elected, promised to eliminate the federal Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Arts. To conservatives, these should be two worthy goals. Regardless of the merits (or lack there of) of these two agencies, the federal government did not have the constitutional authority to meddle with either the arts or education. Alas that type of thinking seems to have fallen out of favor. For example, since the 2000 election of the Republican George W. Bush, how many federal agencies and departments have been eliminated? Can’t think of any, huh? For example, rather than end the federal government’s involvement in education, unfortunately he has only increased it with the creation of disastrous No Child Left Behind Act. Education is the sphere of the state, locality, and parents, not bureaucrats in Washington. In other areas too, the president has sought merely to reform rather than eliminate federal government control.That failure should truly be a great disappointment to every limited government conservative out there.
Assuming John McCain becomes our next president, what federal programs and departments will he work to eliminate? I know he speaks well against pork spending which is admirable, but it is merely fighting the symptoms rather than the disease itself. Unless he works to truly reduce the size of the government, striking at the heart of the problem, spending will go up again soon enough.
The solution, my friends, rests with us, not the politicians in Washington. If you are a three-pronged conservative, you must support three-pronged conservatives. If a politician claims to be conservative, the burden of proof is on the candidate. If he or she embraces the conservative rhetoric in whole we should support him or her. Then if the politician fails to live up to the promises and their voting record is poor, then we must withdraw that support. When considering the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, I encourage you to put the torch under each candidate asking, “if elected, what federal programs, agencies, or departments will you work to eliminate?” If the response is the “deer in the headlights” look, or a vague and unsatisfactory answer, limited government conservatives must not support that candidate. That, I believe, is the only way that we can reclaim the Republican Party and reign in the massive power of the federal government. We deserve better!