Rule of Law

Have any 'Reformicons' Worked in Government?

If you think you haven’t heard of “reformicons” or “reform conservatives,” don’t sell yourself short. You are already familiar with this latest movement within the Republican Party, albeit under different branding.


This piece, entitled “The Good Right” (as compared with … ?), sums up the Reformicon agenda this way:

 Yuval Levin, one of reform conservatism’s brightest thinkers, told Sam Tanenhaus that “a shrinking or scaling-back of government” was not his aim. He sought “an entire reimagining of it.” He argues that “a true Burkean conservatism would recast the federal government as the facilitator and supporter of local institutions who are a function of, and a contributor to, a “civil society.”

Sound familiar? It should, because we’ve seen a parade of politicians going back as far as Woodrow Wilson pushing the idea that government can work if just the right people were in charge.

There is so much wrong with this, it is hard to know where to begin.

We could begin at the beginning — 1776, that is — to wreck the philosophical foundations of the reformicons, or we could wreck their pragmatic claims using the writings and speeches of Ronald Reagan, or the “compassionate conservatism” of the 2000s.

So-called “reform conservatism” invariably leads to bigger deficits, bigger government, and failure.

Here’s a wager. Since most of the folks pushing “reform conservatism” are either academics or pundits, I wonder how many of them have ever actually worked inside a government.  Has a single “reformicon” ever served as a government employee and witnessed the hopeless level of waste and inefficiency from the inside? I am not referring to service as some “Special Adviser to the Undersecretary of Compassionate Programs.” I’m talking about being down in the bowels of state, local, or federal government.


Anyone? Raise your hand. Hello? Anyone?

I’ve done my stints in the bowels of both state and federal government. Here’s the bad news for “reform icons”: there is nothing about the nature of government on the inside that can be “fundamentally reformed.” It is what it is. And it isn’t a vehicle for transforming lives for the positive in the long run, or any of the high-minded aims “reformicons” think government can accomplish if just the right people were in power.

Reformicons push progressive policies with GOP branding. They invariably want to grow the size of government and increase spending, and they have never accomplished anything in the long run when given a chance. No Child Left Behind was a classic reformicon program, and outside of the people who wrote it, you are hard-pressed to find anyone who still supports it.

So here is my challenge: find me a reformicon that worked as a career employee inside government. Find me one who has seen the reality of government who believes government can be used to transform people’s lives or implement positive change. Law clerks, interns, undersecretaries, and special assistants don’t count.

Those of us who have been inside the bowels of government have seen government for what it is: a necessary evil. It gets by doing a few things fairly well: policing the streets, winning wars, filing UCC filings, resolving court disputes, issuing trademarks, and so forth.


Once it drifts outside a narrow band of relative competence, government fails.

The reformicon agenda is all about power. Usually, those advocating reform conservatism have a particular “transformative” policy they would like to see implemented. You’ll never guess who is on deck to implement those policies on the top end of the GS scale.

The reformicon agenda is all about power, not principles. The problem with government isn’t that the wrong people are in power. The problem with government is government.

The soaring federal debt of the last 15 years — yes, 15 — reminds us that those who seek to change the world though government programs usually never do, and they leave taxpayers and the children of taxpayers to clean up the mess.

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