Have you noticed that there seems to be a very high correlation between angry citizens in Arizona who favor a major seal-the-border surge to cut off entry for illegal immigrants, and the Tea Partiers who continue to grab the headlines by shouting at the government to get smaller and stay out of our lives?
But there's also a major contradiction, to wit: Which small government does the Tea Party have in mind to hire and train the thousands of additional border guards and deploy all the new technology it will take to "seal" the border? Who's gonna pay for all that?
Oh, those costs will be covered by "prudent fiscal management." In Washington-speak, that means eliminating existing programs.
Well, OK, which ones? Social Security? Medicare? Support for our troops? Health care for our returning veterans? FEMA help during the next disaster?
I have never seen or heard of any example of a credible U.S. government budget claiming to be able to run the country without these programs.
What I hear are old canards like abolishing the Department of Education. Or cutting taxes and doing away with the IRS. Or vaporizing the National Endowment for the Arts. Or privatizing Social Security and Medicare - because the private sector has done such a splendid job of leading our economy off a cliff.
What I hear are empty generalities, like those written by one Carla Howell of the Center For Small Government. She says, "When government gets too big, it won't go away on its own. We must carve out pieces of it that don't belong, that cost too much, or that do more harm then good. We must remove them the same way we get rid of a fallen tree: One piece at a time."
And which are the pieces she says are bloating federal spending?
Requiring everyone to buy medical insurance (whether they want it or not);
Handing out taxpayer "cash for clunkers;"
Bailing out banks, auto companies, state governments, mortgage holders - and just about anyone who wants to be on the dole, or stay on the dole;
Handing out stimulus checks;
Driving up taxpayer liabilities and debt;
Building another overpriced, unnecessary school or library;
Raising the sales tax, property taxes, "sin" taxes, and meals and hotel taxes.
So where in this laundry list are any proposals to even so much as tweak the spending of our Defense Department. This year, DOD will spend $ 685.1 billion - a figure that's doubled over the past decade. And Pentagon-watchers will tell you unequivocally that at least a third of that is total waste. That waste comes to a very large chunk of cash. And Bob Gates seems to be the only person around who's concerned.
There is no doubt that our government is chockablock with programs that don't work, with inefficiencies that drive up costs, with expensive "carve-outs" for this or that favored industry or company, and with thousands of "earmarks" that move stealthily through the system and have the enormous benefit of keeping their sponsors in office for another term.
Of course there's a need for the kind of fiscal soundness commission that Senate Republicans proposed and than voted against. Where were all those dedicated small government devotees when the votes were cast? On the wrong side of history.
Fact is that our country is undergoing a huge demographic and cultural change, and change is scary to a lot of folks who need someone to blame and find government a convenient scapegoat. That's the wave being ridden today by crazy-as-a-fox demagogues like Sarah Palen and Glenn Beck.
Fact is it's a lot easier to just rant at Big Government than to actually try to do something about it. Because doing something about it requires thoughtfulness, patience, deep knowledge of how government works, compromise, political will, and creativity.
I suggest these are not the attributes that spring to mind when you think of the Tea Partiers.