More Freedom/Less Government
How big do you want your government to be? Conservatives generally advocate less government. Yesterday's liberals (who have curiously changed their name to the meaningless 'moderates') invariably act to create more government.
What is the issue here? Government has only two ultimate tools to use when its teaching function is ignored. It can put you in jail. And it can seize your property. It is in light of these coercive remedies that the debate over the size and scope of government should be understood.
There are three types of government activity in this debate. The first is core government justice. Only anarchists seriously dispute that government should operate the courts, the police system and the prisons. It should enforce laws to prevent fraud and provide to all of us a comprehensive, just and understandable legal framework. At the national level this includes provision for the national defense - including military and diplomatic measures - and disaster relief. On this set of core government the debate is over the proper level of government to provide the service. Conservatives generally want to decentralize to the lowest appropriate level - usually local or state government. And liberals try to concentrate power up the food chain - preferably with the U.N. - and if not feasible then with Uncle Sam. Bill Clinton's phantom 100,000 police officers are a classic example. Policing is a proper function of government. But only liberals could imagine that there is some advantage in having local police paid for by the federal government (which is currently 5 trillion dollars in debt) in order to relieve the tax burden on local governments which run a net surplus.
The second type of government activity involves projects that only the government can do efficiently and that most of us recognize as beneficial to the community. While neighborhood groups will debate whether a highway should take this or that route they do not disagree that construction and maintenance of roads, water supply, and sewer lines are a proper function of government. The debate between conservatives and liberals focuses on efficiency and allocating the costs between users and the community. Conservatives support allocating costs to users where feasible. Liberals tend to charge the community. Conservatives have economic principles of supply and demand on their side.
It is the third category of government activity that a huge philosophical conflict develops. Historically liberals have wished for government the power to implement any "good idea". If the performing arts are a "good thing" then liberals want the government to perform art. If everyone needs health care liberals want government to provide it. Education is indispensable so liberals demand a government education monopoly.
Since we all must breathe liberals may soon propose the NBA - the National Breathing Authority - and will tax the air and tell us how much of it we may consume. It's not that liberals are bad people. They are just fizzy thinkers.
In the great debates over the scope of government there is often a real difference that reveals what voters really think, not only about government, but about themselves. Those who have grown up dependent, pampered and coddled are comfortable with a government as a benevolent nanny. It is all they have known. They are called liberals. Conservatives see the potential for abuse in most extensions of government power and try to hold the line at core government services.
Legislative debates often are on the very margin. In the summer of 1996 the State House and Senate debated whether there would be a 10.689 billion dollar budget as requested by Governor Hunt or a 10.315 billion dollar budget adopted by the House. They compromised at 10.446 billion dollars for this year, a 6.7% increase in spending over the previous year. That is an argument at the margin. But is not a real conservative/liberal struggle.
When you see entire nanny programs eliminated instead of reduced by a trivial amount there or there then you will know what conservative thought has become ascendant. More freedom, less government.