Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Large and the Small of it

One of my cultural heros, Dennis Prager, has coined a new aphorism which he repeated in his recent talk to the Republican congressional gathering in Maryland to a standing ovation: "the bigger the government, the smaller the citizen." Here's a video of him talking about this.

There are several reasons I love this. First is it satisfies a dire need in the American conservative movement for crafting our message in easily digestible bites; something the liberal or progressive movement has consistently beaten us at for probably well over a century. Propaganda and sloganeering has been a central tactic of the left from the beginning, and they are far ahead of conservatives in this regard (not hard to do considering that the conservative attempts are almost non-existent). Consider one example tackled by Michael Medved in his most recent book, The 5 Big Lies About American Business:
The odd notion that "when the rich get richer, the poor get poorer" received recognition and publicity in the jaunty foxtrot "Ain't We Got Fun," instroduced as part of the vaudeville revue Satires of 1920 and then recorded by Van & Schenk in a version that became a worldwide hit.

The point being that this catchphrase that so clearly embodied one of the most potent of economic fallacies--that economics is a "zero sum game" so that rich people only become rich by exploiting poor people, thereby "making" them poorer--had
already estalished itself as such a cherished cliche' by 1920 that the songwriters knew the audience would reach for the familiar word to rhyme with "surer," and they deliver a laugh by mentioning "children" instead.
(The line went There's nothing surer, The rich get rich, And the poor get...children.)

So Dennis Prager's slogan is a brilliant example of the kind of thing that desperately needs to be done for the conservative argument.

But the other reason I love it is that it perfectly states the overarching principle of American conservatism, and I would argue, for the American system of government as established by its founders: the virtue of small and limited government.

This is an idea that still resonates with the American people, regardless of party affiliation, age, race or educational demographics: Americans still resist the idea of big government, which is why president Obama, even as he works feverishly to expand the size and scope of government to historically unprecedented levels, claims that he doesn't want to ("it's not because I like bigger government...I don't!").

Notice I use the word "idea" with reference to the American people and big government. Admittedly Americans are somewhat Schizophrenic on this issue. Their resistance to government enlargement tends to end when encountering entitlements to which they themselves benefit, which is why once a government entitlement is started it can almost never be stopped. The socialist democracies of Europe are learning this the hard way as they watch their economies and their common currency, the Euro, teeter on the edge of collapse from lavish social programs, yet are rebuffed by their voters at every attempt to rein in the largesse.

Nevertheless, the "idea" of big government is still repugnant to most Americans. This is the impetus behind the populous revolt demonstrated in everything from the election of a Republican senator in Massachusetts to the rise of the Tea Party movement. And to whatever degree the Republican party violated its own platform principle of small and limited government, low taxes and curtailed spending--which under the Bush administration was a large degree--it bears the responsibility for its loss of power and the disaffection of many of its own members. For myself, this is where I most strongly differed with President Bush whom, for the most part I supported.

This fundamental precept of Americanism--that when those who govern us become too powerful, when the machine of government grows too large, when too much of our honestly-earned money is confiscated through taxes, even under the pretext of coming back as help and benefits--we are all diminished and enfeebled, is one we must take every opportunity to repeat.

The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.

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