Sunday, November 11, 2012

Small Government Conservatism is Not Possible from Today's GOP

The Republican Party has some problems. For a political party that claims to be the party of smaller government, they sure have a funny way of showing it. First, they shut out the eventual Libertarian Party candidate from the GOP primary debates, even though he had two terms' experience governing in a Democrat state where he balanced the budget without raising taxes. Then, Dr. No himself, the stalwart of Constitutional conservatism, is largely ignored by the media during his primary run. Finally, they nominate for the presidential campaign the man who laid the groundwork for Obamacare.

It's more than fair to say that Republicans care about reducing the size and scope of government about as much as a hoarder cares about a single dirty sock on the floor. So why do people who claim they want government to be smaller continue to vote for candidates that show no loyalty to those same ends? A case of battered wife syndrome? or simply a fear that the "other party" is that much worse? As I have said before, a vote for the "lesser of two evils" is still a vote for evil.

The major source of the problem as I see it stems from the belief that the GOP is the party for Christians. And it's easy to see why that is the perception. When your biggest social issue is abortion you kind of paint yourself into a corner. Now, abortion is a difficult issue to tackle (as a libertarian I find myself constantly falling on either side of the aisle due to the question of when life begins) that unfortunately tries to devolve into a simple black-and-white argument. But by no means should it come to define a political party's entire platform.

Another huge pet cause of the modern GOP is American imperialism. While officially called "nation building" and "spreading democracy", America's current foreign policy amounts to nothing more than the Philippine-American War circa the age of aircraft carriers and drones.

So we have the Christian moralists and the hawkish neo-conservatives trying to find common ground in a candidate. Unfortunately, neither of those things fit with a small-government mentality. It is impossible to force morality on people through legislation, and it is even more impossible to run a global war machine and keep a small budget.

Over the coming years, so-called conservatives need to make a choice: will they be sincere in their pledge of wanting smaller government, will they continue to make decisions in the lives of others, or will they perpetuate a culture of war-making? I know what I will choose, and I have a few reasons why a lot more people should embrace the same.

A lot of people like to say they have no interest in politics or government. (That's too bad, since the government takes a lot of interest in us.) Even so, interests seem to be piqued during election cycles. Going back the last few presidential elections, though, there hasn't been a lot of difference between the winning candidate and the other major party's platform. George Bush was the Republican candidate in 2000 and 2004, but he also brought us an education boondoggle and the biggest healthcare spending increase since the 1960's. Barack Obama wanted to end the War in Iraq but began conflicts in numerous other countries. He also has continued a policy of spying on American citizens. Neither had a record that is worthy of defending, which is why our election cycles of late have focused on negative campaigning against the opposing candidates.

It has always struck me as strange that people who proclaim the love of Christ would follow it up with bombing runs against foreigners and campaigns to make everyone righteous via government fiat. In my mind, Jesus would prefer people to follow him willingly. So it makes as little sense for the religious right to force people to live a certain way as it makes for progressives to force people to live a certain way.*

The other thing about the GOP attempting to have a large social agenda is that it grows the size of government. If you try to make abortion illegal, every time someone would try to have one there would be a circus of bureaucracy trying to implement it. Was she raped? Fill out this form and take a test. Oh, she wasn't raped? You're under arrest and we're going to trial. Every step in the process amounts to more paperwork and more tax dollars being spent than are already in Planned Parenthood's coffers.

If the religious right wants to make an impact in people's lives, they should lead by example. Preach smaller government while practicing private charity. Change people's lives through individual action, not threat of punishment. As the saying goes, you can catch more flies with honey than with governor (*or vinegar, even). We need to show that greater individual liberty is the way to bring about more positive changes in American lives.

Many of the religious right like to say that this country was founded on Christian morals. I used to count myself among the group that believed that. But Christian morals no more belong to America than to England. One of the founding principles of this country is, however, freedom of religion.  It is beneficial to society for people to live a moralistic life. But the highest moral we, as a country of dozens if not hundreds of religions, can live by is respecting everyone's God-given rights to life, liberty, and property.

This same idea goes for our country abroad. Do we really think we are going to convert Muslims to democracy or even Christianity by bombing them, their parents, their children, their cousins at a wedding? Our mission abroad, if anything, should be to protect only those American interests that are directly in danger. And long, drawn-out wars do nothing to protect American interests; in fact, they make us more vulnerable over the long term by spreading our forces thin. The United States are supposed to be the greatest military might in the world, but we sure don't act like it when we can't even "win" a war after ten years.

Where does this entire post take us then? Only by pushing for candidates who truly believe in small government will we be able to roll back the government interventions into everyone's lives and start to make differences in individual lives. We cannot succumb to desires to control or manipulate the lives of others, for that is neither what Christ taught nor is it the foundation of this great nation.

Before you move on from the 2012 presidential election and go the next three and a half to four years largely ignoring politics, let me leave you with two quotes:
"Conquest is not in our principles. It is inconsistent with our government."
- Thomas Jefferson

"Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master."
- George Washington
Christians and small government conservatives have a decision to make moving forward. They can continue policies that limit the freedom of others, or they can practice what they preach. I choose the latter.

*updated on 11/12/12.

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