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Putting Government-Haters In Charge of Government

Mustang Bobby mocks a Sarah Palin fan who describes her appeal thus:

She's a down to earth person who will fight against the government. I can see her out there fishing with the guys. Plus, she's hot.

Fishing camaraderie and hotness are obviously not good criteria for judging a politician. The first two criteria I don't think are that bad on the face of it, though the devil is in the details and I'm sure Palin's fans interpret them in quite different ways than I do.

The comments to Bobby's post fixate on criterion #2 and quickly turn to a common liberal jab against conservatives -- that if conservatives don't believe government is good, why should we trust them to run it? I don't think this really holds up to scrutiny. Were it valid, it would propose that increased government intervention into all aspects of life is always a good thing, or at least that rolling back said intervention is always an incoherent idea.

But of course we don't think that. One area where I think the government doesn't do a good job and should back off is deciding who should be allowed to marry who. I wouldn't be very convinced -- nor would, I imagine, the people in the linked post -- if a conservative said to me that it's ridiculous to trust Tom Duane because he doesn't think government should be regulating people's marriages, and I should vote instead for an anti-marriage-equality candidate since said candidate is confident that government is good at dictating how intimate relationships should be structured. Conservatives sometimes do make an argument of basically this form with respect to war -- claiming it makes no sense to elect politicians to run the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who think said wars are bad, since their lack of drive for victory will lead them to fight poorly. Anti-war voters reply, rightly, that the point of electing anti-war politicians is that they will get the government to stop having a war at all.

Similarly, if a conservative believes that tax rates are too high because the government just wastes all that money, there's nothing incoherent about trying to elect a politician who will lower the tax rates and stop the waste. The idea that it's incoherent seems to be based on the assumption that the size of government is fixed, and thus electing an anti-government candidate would just lead to them doing a crappy job of managing the government they don't believe in*. This may carry some weight with respect to heads of agencies, who have limited ability to fight for reductions in the size of their responsibilities and are obligated to carry them out in the meantime, but not against elected top-level policymakers (i.e. it could be an argument against Michael Brown, but not against Palin).

I disagree with the reasons that most conservatives believe the government is a failure, but given that someone does buy those reasons, there's nothing additionally wrong with them voting for politicians who will shrink the government in corresponding ways.

*Some may point out that in practice anti-government candidates have accomplished little in terms of reducing taxes and spending (and of creating marriage equality and ending wars, for that matter). This kind of cynicism, however, is a separate argument from the claim that it's a priori incoherent to aim at smaller government.


Blogger Bill Baar said...

Why do you believe Government should license marriage?

That hasn't always been the case in the United States.

3:36 PM  
Blogger Stentor said...

People entangle their lives with others in various ways, one common form of which is a romantic coupling. It therefore makes sense that society should recognize these entanglements in the way it treats people, from inheritance rights to hospital visitation to joint filing of tax returns. But in order to confer such recognition, and to seek enforcement of the resulting rights (e.g. if the doctors don't believe you when you say you should get to make decisions for your incapacitated partner), there needs to be some sort of legal registering of your status. Marriage licenses act as a standard-package contract to take care of this stuff for people who enter into one common type of life-entanglement.

10:39 PM  

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