Today's mainstream conservatives are predictably anti-big government -- a theme that ignores how government oversight is often essential to freedom in an interdependent society. Just as freedom requires cops on the street, so too it requires inspectors to safeguard against unsanitary restaurants and dingy nursing homes.
But in two columns over the weekend, a new conservative critique emerges that I believe is more accurate. In "Meanwhile, Back in America ...", Peggy Noonan discusses the gap between the rhetoric of the State of the Union speech, and the reality of Big Brother in people's daily lives. The main flaw as I see it is not in government's aspirations, but in its implementation. It is not hard to imagine government that allows practical choices on the ground, or accommodates different values. But instead it clings to a one-size-fits-all approach that sues to end a school voucher program in Louisiana because it is successful in helping motivated minority students escape awful public schools.
Joseph Rago's interview of Sen. Tom Coburn reveals a conservative as fed up with right-wing special interests as with those of the left. Sen Coburn has concluded, clearly correctly in my view, that "I don't think Washington can fix Washington." The culture of government is dedicated to itself, not to the society it supposedly serves. It is too inbred, too paralyzed in accumulated laws, as I argue in my new book (The Rule of Nobody, April). What's needed is an outside movement to force a dramatic spring cleaning and resetting of priorities. Think the 1960s. The villain is not Bull Connor but a suffocating, unaffordable bureaucratic blob feeding special interests on all sides.
For more Howard's Daily posts, visit commongood.org/blog.
Follow Philip K. Howard on Twitter: www.twitter.com/philipkhoward