The Mix

The lessons of Abramoff ...

According to the <I>Wall Street Journal</I>.
Peggy Noonan:
The Steamroller
The road to big government reaches a dead end at Jack Abramoff.
The problem with government is that it is run by people, and people are flawed. They are not virtue machines. We are all of us, even the best of us, vulnerable to the call of the low: to greed, conceit, insensitivity, ruthlessness, the desire to show you're in control, in charge, in command.
If the problem with government is that it is run by people and not, as James Madison put it, angels, the problem with big government is that it is run by a lot of people who are not angels. They can, together and in the aggregate, do much mischief. They can and inevitably will produce a great deal of injustice, corruption and heartlessness.
People in government--people in a huge, sprawling government--often get carried away. And they don't always even mean to. But they are little tiny parts of a large and overwhelming thing. If government is a steamroller, and that is in good part how I see it, the individuals who work in it are the atoms in the steel. The force of forward motion carries them along. There is inevitably an unaccountability, and in time often an indifference about what the steamroller rolls over. All the busy little atoms are watching each other, competing with each other, winning one for their little cluster. And no one is looking out and being protective of what the steamroller is rolling over--traditions, shared beliefs, individual rights, old assumptions, whatever is being rolled over today.
This is essentially why conservatives of my generation and earlier generations don't like big government. They don't even like government. We know we have to have one, that it is necessary, that it can and must do good, that it has real responsibilities that must be met. Madison again, in Federalist 51: "If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place, oblige it to control itself."
These are wise words.
But conservatives are not supposed to like big government. It's not our job. We're supposed to like freedom and the rights of the individual. (Individuals aren't virtue machines either, but they're less powerful than governments and so generally less damaging.) We're supposed to be on the side of the grass the steamroller flattens.
Aside from being incredibly predictable (if she ever gets tired, I could write these things for her for a few bucks a pop) this column is a fine example of why the left needs to hammer home the demand for good governance. "Big Government" is an expression coined by conservatives to counter the very successful "Big Business" meme that anchored the progressive populist movement in the early part of the last century. Will we ever get it together to push back on these narratives? It's not big or small government that will kill you, it's bad government.
Joshua Holland is a staff writer at Alternet and a regular contributor to The Gadflyer.