That isn’t likely to work this time. And, as Cooper says, perhaps it is just as well:
At a time when Americans are convinced that foreign aid is a significant part or the budget—the median answer in one survey in 2010 was 25 percent of the budget—it’ll be a good object lesson for people to see that government means planes landing safely, meat being inspected, Yellowstone being kept open. Yes, most of what the government does is write checks and defend us, “an insurance company with an Army,” so the saying goes. But it does a lot more.
This civics lesson may be beneficial for several reasons. Americans talk a good “small government” game, but when faced with losing a pet program or a subsidy, they are just as likely to scream bloody murder. If we are ever to live within our means, we must collectively decide what it is we want government to do, and then be willing to cough up the tax money to get it done. No more allowing politicians to bestow goodies on us that we never asked for, and may not even need. A revolution in attitude toward government is needed, and the sequester has the potential to start a national conversation about the role of government in society and the limits that must be placed on federal power if we are to save ourselves from a debt Armageddon.
This is not to demonize government. It certainly doesn’t mean we should love it either. You don’t have to love government to want to make it work efficiently, prudently — conservatively. Nor should one have to hate the government in order to restrain it.
Recognizing that the federal government is out of control, that it is taking on functions for which it was never intended to perform and cannot competently manage does not make one an anti-government zealot. That is a political attack, and not a rational argument. Wanting to place limits on where government can intrude in our lives does not mean that you hate the poor, or the children, or anyone else. If the sequester does nothing else, it may reveal in stark relief government functions that truly are necessary and those that might not be.
And wouldn’t that be a revelation to both liberals and conservatives.
You don’t have to be wedded to an 18th century form of government to discuss responsibly limiting federal power in the 21st century. Nor should the challenges of the 21st century make us lose sight of the founding 18th century principles upon which the American experiment in self-governance has rested. We are a big, urbanized, industrial, 21st century democracy of 300 million people. In that sense, a big country needs a big government. It needs government to be big enough and strong enough to stand up to multi-national corporations and trillion-dollar banks and not allow them to rob us, poison us, or oppress us. It needs to be big enough to enforce the concept of equal justice for all Americans. It needs to be big enough to protect us from threats inside and outside the country. And it needs to be big enough to care for those tens of millions of citizens who either can’t — or won’t — care for themselves.
We’ve left the details to Congress and have paid for that inattention by being saddled with crushing debt, shrinking currency, and an expansion of federal power that threatens the very liberty that those 18th century principles were designed to protect. The sequester may ultimately reveal that at least some of what we’ve asked government to do, we are better able to do ourselves.
That, alone, might make all the pain caused by these willynilly cuts worth it.