On Monday, the Star published an editorial entitled, "Irene
makes the case for government" in which the paper contrasted government
performance in the face of the unusual northeast hurricane with general
criticism from small-government conservatives.
who believe big government can do no right kept silent when big government
swung into action. The much-derided Federal Emergency Management Agency
prepositioned 18 disaster-response teams on the East Coast and stockpiled food,
water and communications equipment.
The editorial continued to detail the preparations of
various public agencies, and noted that hurricane expert Max Mayfield praised
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Mayfield praised the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for
spending the extra money -- Gasp! Federal spending! -- on additional surveillance
flights and weather balloons that paid off in better forecasts.
Republican Presidential Candidate Michelle Bachmann was
criticized for joking that hurricanes and earthquakes were divine wrath.
in Florida, GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota said the hurricane, by then
reduced to a middling tropical storm, and the East Coast earthquake days
earlier were warnings from God about the evils of federal spending.
The editorial board apparently thought she was stone-cold
serious even though she was smiled and her audience laughed when she said it.
The editorial closed by recommending that conservatives stop talking about
downsizing government until hurricane season is over.
small-government types should hold off on their calls to downsize government.
Hurricane season has three more months to run.
The article's premise--that small-government conservatives
believe "government can do no right" is false. It assumes that because
conservatives oppose big government, they must oppose all government.
I see the fallacy frequently, usually
involving infrastructure. It goes like this:
"Oh you don't like big government? So you don't want roads
It's the logical equivalent of asking a drowning man if he drinks
water occasionally. "You drink water every day; what's your problem with
At the center of the fallacy is the assumption that you
can't oppose something in degrees. I like water, I just don't want so much of
it I drown in it. A little "Gasp!--Federal spending!" is OK by me, I just don't
want to drown in public debt.
The fact that small-government conservatives oppose
government in degrees is in our name. We aren't called "no-government
conservatives." We want a little government, but not too much.
So when is a good time for government to get involved? If it
protects us, and it works, then I think small-government types like myself are
OK with it. In fact, conservatives tend to be the strongest supporters of
police and the military, even though both are sizable arms of government.
You don't see Tea Partiers on street corners saying no to
police and soldiers (but you do see that on the progressive left,
interestingly). Nor will you see a lot of Tea Partiers--the fringe right,
according to Democrats--opposing the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. How
much does the NOAA cost--.000000000000001% of the budget? There are few who care about
that, and the Tea Party did not originate over alarm at the NOAA's encroachment into our lives.
Small-government conservatives DO care when government
involves itself in places it should not be or if its involvement does not
work. You don't get to $14 trillion in
debt and a $1.3 trillion budget deficit with efficient government, so, believe it or not, there is room to criticize government.
When it becomes expensive, conservatives speak up.
Five of the top six largest federal budget items are
progressive sacred cows, totaling two-thirds of all federal spending. If you
want to cut back spending on any of those items, why you must oppose roads as well. A real good argument, right? It distorts any attempt to reduce spending or waste.
After Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in 2005, FEMA
started handing out money like it was candy, leading to millions of lost
taxpayer dollars and widespread fraud. According to the liberal Huffington
that allowed thousands of improper and fraudulent payments. FEMA employees
awarded money without interviewing applicants or inspecting property and made
errors that ranged from recording incorrect banking information to failing to
check whether insurance had already covered damage, according to congressional
HuffPo reported that FEMA is reviewing $600 million it
distributed in aid to hurricane victims, and has already asked people to pay back more than $22 million. Hundreds were
convicted for fraud.
If we use the progressive fallacy that if you oppose an
excess of something then you must oppose all of it, then if anyone finds it
alarming that FEMA wasted millions or hundreds of millions of our dollars, then
you must oppose all disaster response efforts.
In the final analysis, "Irene makes the case for government" inadvertently sets up a straw man--a conservative straw man who apparently is making the case
for the elimination of all government--and knocks it down with an avalanche of
praise for the feds in an attempt to diminish the arguments of those, particularly in the Tea Party, who took upon themselves
the abandoned--but crucial--role of government watchdog.