On being accused of being ‘pro-government’ on every issue

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

— John Donne

I still don’t understand what about the previous Bowe Bergdahl discussion prompted this (which is one reason why I’m moving the discussion to a separate thread), but Bud wrote:

Brad you’re actually pretty easy to predict. If it involves more government intervention you’re for it. Issues traditionally on the right that involved more government intervention: Iraq, military spending, abortion, marijuana laws, Sunday blue laws, gay marriage. Brad supports? Check, check, check, check. Liberal issues with more government involvement: healthcare, foreign aid, gun control, public education. Brad? check x 4.

Kathryn Fenner weighed in enthusiastically: “Nailed it.”

My response…

Yes, I believe that as a society we can work together to address challenges that face us. I do not believe that we are islands, on our own in the void.

You interpret that as being pro-government (because any arrangement between people to work together, whether formal or informal, can be said to be government), and say it like it’s a bad thing. Government is civilization’s prerequisite.

But saying I’m pro-government suggests the straw men of libertarians, who go on about “statism” and “collectivism.” They misrepresent a belief that we can come together as free people and build a decent civilization together as being Stalinist. That’s at the extreme. At the least, though, being pro-government to them means you’re pro-BIG government, as though size were particularly relevant.

I want government to be no bigger, and no smaller, than it needs to be in order to accomplish the legitimate tasks of enabling us to address common issues. And I’ve long been an advocate of subsidiarity, something that doesn’t come up here a lot because most of y’all don’t seem to want to get into the theoretical weeds quite that far. But put simply, it means governmental functions — and functions of other organizations and institutions as well — should be performed at the lowest, smallest, most local level that is competent to perform them adequately. That means, for instance, that whenever possible, I want to push functions down from the federal to the state level (think education) and from the state to the local (think all those MANY things that state legislators oversee in SC that should be local).

The purpose of the larger levels are to perform the things that the smaller ones can’t, effectively. The federal level needs to handle relations with foreign countries, from diplomacy to trade to war, regulate interstate commerce (mostly to keep it free and flowing, unlike under the Articles of Confederation) and do a very few other things. One of those things, I’ve come to believe, should be setting up one gigantic, universal health insurance pool, because the economies to be gained far exceed what any state or locality could manage.

Oh, dang. You went and got me started. How did we get from Bergdahl onto this subject anyway?

One more point: What Bud is addressing is one of the reasons why I will never feel comfortable in either the “liberal” or “conservative” camps, as they are popularly defined and organized. I agree with one side on more or less as many issues on which I agree with the other. On some, I agree with neither. That’s because I think about each issue. And my agreement or disagreement with each camp turns on a lot of points other than the relative involvement of “government.”

But it’s true that you will find consistency, for the most part, in my opposition to the propositions of libertarians. I say “for the most part” because there are areas of disagreement. I agree on the importance of the basic freedoms we enjoy as Americans, and in cases in which they are truly threatened, I will stand as staunchly as anyone in their defense. I just think libertarians tend to see threats where they don’t exist. But I’m with them on issues here and there: For instance, I see “hate crime” laws as fundamentally unAmerican, and a violation of the first and most important human right, the right of freedom of conscience, which is enshrined in various forms (speech, press, religion, assembly) in the First Amendment.

But I regard their hand-wringing over Edward Snowden’s revelations as absurd. You can no doubt think of many other areas of strong disagreement.

So I’m neither a liberal or a conservative. Or perhaps I’m a “liberal-conservative” or a “conservative-liberal.” I would say you could call me a “Democratic-Republican,” except that back when there actually was such a party, I probably would have been a Federalist…

55 thoughts on “On being accused of being ‘pro-government’ on every issue

  1. Juan Caruso

    Every eligible voter is entitled to ONE, and only ONE vote. This includes what DanM terms “radical moderate”s, conservatives. Libertarians, socialists, communists, communitarians, progressives, Democratichs, Republichans, tea party radicals, Iatheists, LGBT lobbyist, Islamists, Christians and the entire panoply of U.S.A. citizens.

    Those who wish to abridge, amend, supplant or supercede our constitution must do it by due process, not executive edict.

    Lame-spined elites who intend to supplant, nullify or cede our constitutrional sovereignty to globalist nebish organizations (i.e. the U.N.) will have the same hell to pay as the British royals and loyalists in 1776.

    Why? Because “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” – Thomas Jefferson

    Is it time to refresh the tree of Liberty? “Tyrants must decide; but, alas, modern tyrants are only the most avaricious, deceptive and cowardly among all citizens. When they fall, however they fall, the rest of us are likely to rejoice with good fortune of blood and treasure spared.” – John Agnew (1945)

  2. bud

    I’m not being mean-spirited in this observation. Brad is a communitarian which is actually fairly rare. We have gobs of libertarians, even more conservatives and a good many liberals. I would suggest communitarian is the fourth, but smallest, grouping on the political compass. I proudly embrace my liberal view of the world and respect Brad for courageously defending communitarianism. But it’s not unpredictable.

    1. Juan Caruso

      “I would suggest communitarian is the fourth, but smallest, grouping on the political compass. ” – Bud

      You may be correct since the number of over-zealous federal lawyerss (i’e. Lois Lerner) has been growing geometrically at the rate of 116 perthousand pages of regulations. Obama accounts for 20,000 pages thus far.

  3. Juan Caruso

    There are currently more than 36,072 general attorneys employed by the federal government in the United States, U.S. territories, foreign countries and unspecified locations; this figure includes cabinet level agencies and large, medium and small independent agencies. Madame Lerner, a recent proponent of extralegal government, is but one of the partisans.

  4. Doug Ross

    “I want government to be no bigger, and no smaller, than it needs to be in order to accomplish the legitimate tasks of enabling us to address common issues. ”

    This is always your cop-out statement when accused of being for big government. If this were true, you could name a list of items where you think the current government should be reduced and then balance that against those areas where you think government involvement should be increased.

    I would be fine with you claiming to be neutral on the topic if you also could say “the total revenues of the government as they exist today are correct, it’s just the way they are apportioned needs to be altered”. Based on your long record of supporting all manner of government programs, especially big ticket items like gas taxes, single payer, military intervention around the world, it would seem to be impossible to have what you want without significantly increasing the size of government. You can’t just say “I don’t care about what it costs, just do the right thing.” Every choice has a cost.

    But prove me wrong. Give me one thing you want and tell me how you pay for it. And can you do it without increasing the deficit.

    I could give you single payer. But you’d have to give up a large chunk of the defense budget. I can give you infrastructure improvements. But will you give up payments to foreign countries?

    Now on the little things, like blue laws, you’re just trying to impose your personal choices on everyone else. There are no “community standards” regarding when a business chooses to operate.

  5. Brad Warthen

    Couple of points:

    1. I’m not clever enough about money, particularly about the complexities of government budget, to do the kind of cost analysis you challenge me to provide. I will say that I think you’re offering false choices when you ask me to choose to eliminate one essential service (such as roads) for another (military).

    2. Bud and Doug get really worked up about my supposed advocacy of blue laws, when all I’ve really done is lament their passing. I’m allowed to do that, am I not? I’m allowed, I think, to believe the world is too much with us, to mourn the passing of a time when everything shut down and was quiet for a day each week. The key difference between us lies in the fact that I regard the belief that a community taking day off from commerce constituted an establishment of religion as absurd. The Framers simply would not have seen a day without commerce as the kind of establishment that concerned them. They were worried about such things as the government collecting tithes for one church, and persecuting dissenting sects.

    1. Doug Ross

      When did the place of business where you spent the majority of your career ever take a day off? Can’t you see the inconsistency there? You worked for companies that required people to work on Sunday. You worked for a company that derived a large chunk of its revenue from the product it sold in stores on Sunday. Sure, YOU didn’t have to work. But others did. And they chose to do that. But the guy who wants to sell a pair of pants on Sunday can’t in some places.. or he can, buut between the hours of 1 and 6. It’s one of the most absurd laws ever established by a small group of people who wanted to impose THEIR beliefs on others. You may consider it trivial (if so, let’s abolish them)… but it’s a symptom of the ability the government has to remove even the smallest freedom from individuals.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Actually, for years and years, I DID have to work on Sunday. And I didn’t like it. Although I took pride in my work on those days as on any other. In fact, I was just thinking about that a couple of days back. Newspapers have a terrible habit of putting out Monday papers that are not worthy of the word “news.” They consist of sports results and canned copy written the previous week and saved to run on that day.

        True, in spite of the passing of Blue Laws, relatively little news happens on Sundays. But the key word there is “relatively.” If an editor and his skeleton crew are alert and willing to work, they can find news on a Sunday, and make the Monday paper more worth what readers pay for it. I always did. Too many other editors, then and now, just came in on Sunday and did the minimum, cranking the canned copy over to the copy desk and maybe moving a short item on a wreck or two from Saturday night.

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        And you completely misrepresent Blue Laws when you say they were “established by a small group of people who wanted to impose THEIR beliefs on others.”

        That would be impossible. They either reflected a community consensus, or they did not occur. And that, of course, is what libertarians are concerned about, if I take them at their word — the imposition of “consensus” values or culture upon minorities.

      3. Brad Warthen Post author

        Early in my career, I was up close and personal with an instructive case.

        In Jackson, Tenn., our biggest advertiser was Kisber’s department store, a local business owned and operated by a local family for three generations. The Kisbers were Jewish, but they were glad to close on Sundays, letting their Christian employees celebrate their Sabbath.

        But Jonas Kisber had a business reason for liking that state of affairs — the Blue Laws kept the big, out-of-town chains from coming in and driving him out of business.

        The newspaper’s position was that Blue Laws should go away. Our publisher would regularly hear complaints from Jonas on that score. We had plenty of occasion to hear from him. Aside from his status as advertiser, his wife was our “society” columnist and his son worked in the summers as a photography intern. The newspapers and the Kisbers were sort of a blended family.

        Eventually, the paper got its way. Blue Laws went away. Goldsmith’s, a department store chain out of Memphis, opened a store in the mall. Within a year or so, Kisber’s was out of business.

        One thing that story illustrates is how complicated real human life is. It also illustrates another thing about my concern for community. In that case, it wasn’t just about community values in terms of closing on Sunday. It was also about a beloved local business institution — a place oriented toward customer service, with clerks knowing their customers and their families — going away as the local retail scene became more McDonaldized. It was about the death of part of what small town life was about.

        1. Doug Ross

          Sorry. but I don’t believe your analysis. People shop on price, value, and service. Are you suggesting that Kisber could not compete six days of the week on those factors to retain his customers? If he sold a better product at a lower or same price, he’d stay in business. How many of those chain stores still exist?

          Chain stores won because of marketing and economies of scale…. combined with perceived value. It’s the normal business cycle for companies to thrive and die. It’s creative destruction. Everything can’t remain the same.

    2. Doug Ross

      “I’m not clever enough about money, particularly about the complexities of government budget, to do the kind of cost analysis you challenge me to provide. ”

      I’m not asking for a cost analysis. I assume you can understand that you can’t have everything you want. If you want X, you either have to give up Y or increase the size of government to get X. No analysis required. If you want single payer, can you do it without raising taxes? If you want a carbon tax, do you want to offset it in some other way? If you want America to be the world’s policeman, can you do it without increasing the deficit? These are simple questions. But answering them would put a huge dent in your “I only want what is right, not more” stance.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Well, I can answer this: “If you want single payer, can you do it without raising taxes.” No, of course not. Basically, people with insurance now would be paying taxes instead of premiums to their current private providers. Nobody would be any worse off, it would just be taxes instead of premiums.

        But if you ask me to break down the dollars in any detail, I’m not skilled enough, and don’t have enough data, to do it.

        Now, if you give me clear, specific choices (not false dichotomies, such as “defense or healthcare”), I can give you answers. Several years ago, I wrote a post about an interactive feature that either the NYT or the WashPost had posted that allowed readers to balance the federal budget, making choices using real figures. I had no trouble doing it without sacrificing the things important to me. But then, it’s usually easy for any one individual to do that. It’s harder to do it through the deliberative process, with lots of competing opinions.

        I haven’t been able to find that post…

        1. Doug Ross

          “Nobody would be any worse off, it would just be taxes instead of premiums.”

          Are you willing to guarantee that? Nobody would pay more than they currently pay? If so, I’m in. The reality is that many of the people who are already subsidizing the 20% of Americans on Medicaid and the X% of Americans who will get subsidies under Obamacare would be expected to pay even more to cover everyone else.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Yes, Doug, as offensive as it is to you, some would pay more than others, for the simple fact that there would be some — a small minority — who could not afford to pay their full freight.

            Not because of what this or that person “deserves,” or because it would be “mean” to make poor people pay full cost, but for the simple mathematical fact that if the money’s not there, it can’t be paid.

            But I think everybody should pay something, even if it’s only a nominal, symbolic amount.

            And I believe — I can’t prove this, but neither can anyone else disprove it — that everyone could be covered for roughly what is paid for health coverage in the aggregate now. The current system has unnecessary costs built into it, the most obvious being that doctors and hospitals and pharmacies and every other kind of provider have to pay admin people (either that, or waste the time of trained medical personnel) to wrestle with the complexities of a huge array of different kinds of coverage from different providers, every one of them resistant to paying. I know you think government is inherently inefficient, but that is a HUGE inefficiency we have now.

            1. Doug Ross

              ” a small minority — ”

              20% of Americans are on Medicaid. Another large percentage are on Medicare (and no longer paying their share for the care they receive as most costs occur in the later years), and then there are those who are receiving subsidies or government benefits.

              It’s not a small minority. It’s probably closer to half of all Americans who don’t pay for their insurance.

            1. Brad Warthen

              First, gimme some snaps for telling you some substantial stuff I would cut, which responds to your challenge.

              Second, Whad’Ya mean, zero? Did you miss the part where I said I ran a surplus? 🙂

    3. bud

      Of course Blue Laws were about religion. To suggest otherwise is completely illogical since no one EVER suggested closing everything down on Tuesday. Its like the folks who claim the civil war had nothing to do with slavery.

      1. Brad Warthen

        First, I hereby propose that we close everything down on Tuesday. Although Monday or Friday would be better.

        Second, who said religion played no role in communities’ decisions to shut down on Sundays? What I said was that that in no way constituted an establishment of religion, which is what the 1st Amendment proscribes.

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        It just floors me every time we discuss this that anyone would reject such a humane, humanistic, common-sense GIFT as a day of complete rest once a week, something you can only truly have if everyone goes along with it, on the paper-thin grounds that the idea originally had association with a religious precept.

        What stubbornness! How can anyone be so terrified of the idea of a concept that came from religion, but so obviously has nonreligious benefits, being a part of our public life? It just makes no sense.

        It’s like saying we shouldn’t have government meat inspections because the ancient Hebrews — the same wonderful people who gave us that day off — thought of it first with Kosher laws. It. Just. Makes. No. Sense.

  6. Jean Smolen

    Brad, your latest entry on the role of government is the reason I read your blog every day – thoughtful, balanced, informed.

  7. Brad Warthen Post author

    Here’s a small point of disagreement on Bud’s otherwise on-point original comment…

    The conservative position on same-sex marriage doesn’t fit with his thesis of “more government intervention.”

    Since conservatives oppose the establishment of that institution, they are actually on the side of less government involvement. Because the marriage issue is about what the government will do (recognize such unions as marriage). Liberals want government to step in and recognize the unions as marriages; conservatives want government to stay out of it.

    This is of course very different from the old issue about laws that banned homosexual activity. When you had anti-sodomy laws or whatever on the books and being enforced, THAT was government intervention into people’s private lives.

    This is a different question, one on which the conservatives are on the opposite side of the government-involvement factor.

    Oh, and that’s another one where people have inferred my position. I don’t write about it, because I doubt I have anything to add that would be helpful to anyone. In this case, I just thought I’d point out this one inconsistency, since I thought the rest of Bud’s points quite relevant.

    He’s right; I do tend toward the communitarian position most of the time.

    1. Doug Ross

      “When you had anti-sodomy laws ”

      Had? those laws are still on the books in many states.

      Can an American declare his/her same sex spouse on his/her income tax? Can they receive survivor benefits from Social Security? Can a Federal employee get insurance coverage for a same sex partner?
      If not, then government is absolutely using the law to enforce a definition of marriage.

      1. Doug Ross

        I stand corrected – ” However, in 2003 the Supreme Court reversed the decision with Lawrence v. Texas, invalidating sodomy laws in the remaining 13 states (Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Utah).”

        So it only took a couple hundred years to remove those laws that shouldn’t have existed in the first place.

        1. Bart

          “So it only took a couple hundred years to remove those laws that shouldn’t have existed in the first place.”

          Different time, different set of standards, religion played a greater role in the average person’s life, and the Bible was the standard most tried to live by. If we continue to blame everything on what once was, then all we accomplish is live a life of blaming our ancestors and never move forward.

          1. Doug Ross

            Maybe if we started with the premise that any adult should be able to do whatever he wants in the privacy of his home as long as it doesn’t impact anyone else we’d move a lot faster.

            Using drugs, gambling, prostitution should not be illegal. They may be considered immoral by some, but not illegal. All of that activity goes on despite the laws and I am not convinced there would be a significant rise in any of them if they were legal.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              There would be a huge rise in all if legal. You know why? Because contrary to what is often said, most people believe in obeying the law. Why do people who are into gambling waste money traveling to Vegas? Because they can do it legally there. If people just ignored the law, there’d be no reason to go to Vegas, baby, Vegas.

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        I wasn’t familiar with that case, but I had covered your objection by saying of such laws, “on the books and being enforced.” Because like you, I thought that some such archaic laws might still be on the books.

      3. Brad Warthen Post author

        Also, regarding these things: “Can an American declare his/her same sex spouse on his/her income tax? Can they receive survivor benefits from Social Security? Can a Federal employee get insurance coverage for a same sex partner?”

        I think the answer to a couple of those is “yes” now, although I could be wrong. In any case, when the answer is “yes,” the government is involving itself by asserting that this relationship is a marriage, or has the same status as a marriage. If the government doesn’t assert that, then the answer is no.

        The only way it would be the other way around would be if same-sex couples had always enjoyed these advantages, and the government was suddenly saying “no” to them. But these advantages never existed in the past; it requires government action to bring them into being.

        1. Doug Ross

          Answering the questions:

          “Can a Federal Employee get insurance coverage for a same sex spouse?” Yes, since June 26, 2013 (not even a year ago!)

          “Can an American declare his/her same sex spouse on his/her income tax?” Only those who have legal marriages in their state of residence.

          “Can same sex survivors receive spousal Social Security benefits?” Again, only for residents of states where same sex marriage is legal.

      4. Brad Warthen Post author

        It’s a simple point, really — when I got a marriage license, I involved the government in the relationship between my wife and me. If we had just lived together without such a license, there would be no government involvement. Marriage, legal marriage, is by definition government involvement.

          1. Bart

            After living together as man and wife for the appropriate length of time and the union becomes a common law marriage and government is still involved in your personal affairs.

            1. Kathryn Fenner

              Nope, Bart, there is no time requirement. A couple merely has to hold themselves out as married, in SC. A common law marriage requires a civil law divorce, though.
              Common law marriage in SC is a holdover from colonial days when there were few “qualified officiants.” A couple couldn’t always wait for the intinerant preacher to come through.
              Bryan, I thought they were going to abolish common law marriage. It sure creates a lot of legal nightmares in wrongful death suits.

            2. Bart


              Thanks for the clarification. Based on past experience with couples living together and according to some law enforcement officials years ago, it was a year or two before it was considered common law marriage.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I thought about that after I wrote that. Of course, there are certain things that have to be met before a couple of people living together achieves common law status, aren’t there?

          Which raises an interesting point — in states where same-sex marriage is now recognized, do the courts also recognize same-sex common law marriages? Or would the courts hold that you need a few centuries of experience with it before that kicks in? Seeing as how there’s nothing statutory about it, it seems that a body of precedent would have to build up…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            And an even more interesting point…

            Since common law depends on practice and precedent and not statutes or constitutions, would it be possible to assert that a common-law marriage exists between two people of the same gender in SC, even though there is no such thing as statutory, licensed same-sex marriage in the state?

            Excuse me — obviously it would be POSSIBLE to assert it. But would such an argument have any chance of being considered seriously by a judge?

            I ask because — and correct me if I’m wrong, attorneys — since it is independent of statute, I THINK, common law doesn’t just depend on law in the immediate jurisdiction. It’s based on precedents elsewhere, going back to medieval England. Right? So couldn’t precedent set in other parts of the country affect it? I mean, even with statutory law, precedents elsewhere can have some weight, right?

            Of course, I may be 100 percent wrong. I have a good grasp of the law as it involves the Constitution, and a fair grasp of how statutory law works. Common law is kind of a mystery to me…

          2. Bryan Caskey

            In South Carolina, the elements you have to meet for a common law marriage are:

            1. Mutual agreement to live as husband and wife (as opposed to in the future, which would be an engagement);
            2. Cohabitation (no time length specified);
            3. Holding yourself out in the community as husband and wife;
            4. No Impediments to the marriage (You have to be able to get married the regular way. You can’t be already married to someone else, a minor, siblings, or otherwise unable to get married.)

            Simply put, it’s the present intent to be married with no impediments. It could be for one night. As to holding yourself out in the community or reputation, that can be interesting.

            I’ve handled a few divorces from people who are common law married. There’s no “common law divorce”. Becuase there is no public record proving a common law marriage, it’s a case where you need to prove the marriage by other evidence, because it’s usually in one person’s interest to deny that they “agreed to be married”. Usually, the guy.

            Anyway, the issue of holding yourself out as married is usually proven by how they filed their taxes. If they checked the box as “married” then guess what? They either committed perjury on their taxes or they just met that element. (That’s a Caskey pro-tip for all you domestic litigators out there, by the way.)

            In any event, number four is going to be the obstacle to same sex couples in South Carolina. Currently, they cannot get married to each other, so they can’t be common law married. You’d have to change the State Constitution because I think there’s a prohibition against same sex marriage in our State Constitution. So, if you changed that, then I think you’d be fine. But you’re never going to have a situation where you could get common law married but not regular (statutorily) married.

            /looks at watch

            Okay…that took me 18 minutes to post, so at .3 of an hour, Brad now owes me $67.50


            1. Kathryn Fenner

              Nicely done, Bryan. That’s why you make the big bucks….writing screeds for free on minor blogs….

              The real rub comes in after a death of someone who also eschewed estate planing lawyers, in which a payout is to be made to the heirs. Who are they? The parents or the “spouse”. In Maine, a person of the opposite sex sharing living quarters POSSLQ, was jokingly referred to as a spose, cause they spose to get married.

  8. bud

    It is a fascinating logical dynamic that would allow some people a privilege (heterosexuals) yet prohibit other people from having the same privilege (heterosexuals) and regard that as LESS government intrusion. It is perfectly fine to prohibit certain groups from certain privileges. We don’t allow 7 year olds to drive a car. We don’t allow felons to vote. But in all these cases it is obvious that government is more, not less intrusive. Otherwise no one would ever be carded for alcohol purchases.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      It’s fairly simple, Bud. Legal, civil marriage is by definition government involvement in the relationship between the two individuals. So in this case, liberals are the ones seeking greater government involvement, as they do (as you pointed out) with healthcare and gun control.

      But the rest of your examples worked.

  9. Dave Crockett

    I’m exhausted after wading through this thread. But like Jean, this is one of the reasons I read this blog practically every day…even when on vacation. But now it’s 2:36 in the morning and I really must go to bed. Thanks, all.

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