There is some rank heresy afoot over at The American Conservative. While Rod Dreher gathers the faithful aboard his ark "The Benedict Option," someone named John Burtka III defends an active federal government:
At the risk of a metaphorical lynching by fellow conservatives, is there a role for the federal government beyond commerce and security? I say yes, if there are common nationwide goals that “insure domestic Tranquility” and “promote the general Welfare.” Most people don’t take the time to digest the mission of the federal government in its entirety. The role of the federal government, as defined by the preamble of the Constitution, is to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
Increasing his risk of metaphorical lynching, Burtka argues that Head Start, a long-time bete noire of conservatives, is effective and, if anything, ought to be expanded:
As rational human beings, there comes a time where you must use common sense. That common sense tells us that we are losing the international education war because, among other things, our abandonment of traditionally stable two-parent households has led to a growing population of children at risk of being more likely to be educationally uncompetitive, unemployed, and potentially criminal.
So how do we stem this swelling tide of mediocrity and malevolence? What could be even more relevant that vouchers for children that have already been exposed to unneeded risk? We already have a proven remedy—it’s called the Head Start program, and it prepares low-income children for school by providing them educational, nutritional, and health services.
Oh lordy! You can hear the TAC villagers gathering, pitchforks and torches in hand, and so can John Burtka:
I know many of you will cite counter studies that minimize the value of these programs, or dispute the format, but this is where you must use your God-given common sense. I’ve sat in on Head Start classes. I even have a daughter who taught in the system, and I tell you it has a major impact on the lives of these children. And if given the chance to operate without the economic stigma of a program for the poor, Head Start could change the face of our culture.
One assumes that Mr. Burtka is not long for this world, or at least for the pages of The American Conservative, but lo and behold, here comes another author at TAC taking his side. Akhilesh Pillalamarri writes:
Many libertarians and conservatives in the United States have developed the strange notion that all, or most, government beyond the bare minimum (that is, for security), is evil...this notion is hardly conservative; on the contrary, it is quite radical, and rejects hundreds of years of conservative thinking in the West. It stems, in part, from the radical heresy of Ayn Rand, who exalted the individual over the community to the point where society as a notion became superfluous and unnecessary.
Pillalamarri all but apologizes for taking the side of government, but take its side he does, audaciously citing the Founding Fathers:
Conservative defenders of government don’t like bigness for the sake of bigness, or a bloated bureaucracy. But they see a role for the promotion of the common wealth, which is why the word “commonwealth” pops up again and again in the British and American political traditions...The Founding Fathers themselves believed in using the government to promote the general welfare, in line with a tradition dating back to pre-Norman England. There’s a huge difference between effective, streamlined, and non-bloated government, and a bare-minimum government. 2
Could it be that conservatives, now securely in the driver's seat in Washington, are suddenly realizing that it's pointless to control the federal government if it's a pitiful helpless giant? Wholesale opposition to government is a great campaign strategy but a lousy strategy for actually governing or, for that matter, for getting anything constructive done.
1 "Society as a notion became surplus and unnecessary" reminds me of a quote from all-time conservative pin-up girl Margaret Thatcher, who, along with Ronald Reagan, fought back the tide of godless liberalism in the Eighties:
"I think we've been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it's the government's job to cope with it. 'I have a problem, I'll get a grant.' 'I'm homeless, the government must house me.' They're casting their problem on society. And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first."
2 Speaking of a bare-minimum government, here's a treasured quote from right-wing heartthrob Grover Norquist: "I'm not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub." Liberals, of course, prefer a larger government, or at least one strong enough that it can drown Grover Norquist in the bathtub--metaphorically, of course.