Because of the excesses of the Obama administration, conservatives are being more vocal about the concept of “small government.” I understand what is meant when my conservative colleagues use the term “small government” but am on a crusade to convince them to use the term “limited government” instead. We need to be more precise in our terminology because liberals have a well-earned reputation for co-opting terms and deceitfully transforming them in ways that suit their agenda (e.g. “progressive” for “liberal” and “choice” for “abortion”).
When conservatives use the term “big government,” they mean unlimited government—government that has grown too big. When they use the term “small government” they mean government that operates within the constraints of the Constitution. The federal government is too big because it has grown beyond the scope of its Constitutional boundaries. What was intended by the founders to be a limited federal government that carried out specific enumerated duties has, over time, become an unlimited monstrosity that goes well beyond its enumerated duties and any reasonable interpretation of the duties that were not enumerated. Hence, the term unlimited government has become synonymous with the term big government. However, the differences in the two concepts—thought subtle—are important.
The federal government should be as big as is necessary to carry out its enumerated duties and no bigger. Hence, limit the scope of government and you will limit its size correspondingly. Conservatives understand this relationship between Constitutional constraints and the size of government. The problem with using the terms big government and small government is that liberals think the best way to have “small” government is to cut the military. While there is no doubt that massive cuts to the military will shrink the size of government, one must question the veracity of this approach.
Liberals are now using the language of conservatives to justify drastic military cuts while ignoring those aspects of the federal budget that clearly exceed enumerated Constitutional limits. Conservatives must take the initiative in redirecting the course of the debate. The issue is Constitutional limits, not government size per se. When the debate is properly directed, liberals will have to justify spending billions on such governmental agencies as the Departments of Education, Commerce, and Labor as well as on regulatory bodies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In addition, liberals and conservatives will have to do the hard work of dealing with out-of-control spending in the federal government’s three biggest entitlement programs—Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid/Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).