It is agreeable to disagree with agreeable people.
I have been corresponding with a gentleman of late, reviving the lost art of letter writing. He is a couple of shades older than I, and I fear his is the last generation who can endure lengthy and thoughtful discourse via postal services (and since the post office is near bankruptcy, we may all soon be consigned to emailing short missives instead of penning thought stimulating long-form letters).
The gentleman and I disagree about almost everything political.
This, happily, is not unusual. One of my best friends – a gray-bearded, semi-hippie computer programmer and Rasputin look-alike – goes out of his way, and I out of mine, to dine together when we are within range. After typical niceties and swapping of family news, we dive face first into dinner and politics, agreeing only on the quality of the food and service. Yet like my pen pal, the discussion is civil, elaborate and enjoyable.
Civility takes all the excitement out of political disagreement.
In my conversations with them, a double helix theme about American politics has emerged. Summarizing, they both believe that a powerful government will beneficently enrich the public. They perceive government power as a Good Thing, and accept legislative mischief as a price paid for getting things done (whatever those things might be).
Disagreement begins because libertarian minded individuals (a.k.a. the sane ones) understand power for what it is, and in turn understand that great power never stays benevolent. Despite long conversations and letters, they remain wed to the idea that government (and hence power) is the only way to resolve public difficulties, and that federal power is the best arbitrator since it encompasses everyone. Waste, inefficiency, theft, moral hazard, cronyism, wars, corruption and plain stupidity are considered byproducts and a call for more government in order to police government.
That’s not the bad part of their belief system.
Misguided affection for government slithers in failing to acknowledge that The People are pretty good at resolving problem themselves, and that in the Darwinist incubator of private experimentation, slates of options are nurtured (as opposed to the one-size-fits-all solutions whelped by politicians). Be it local or global, people drive solutions. Some work on neighborhood levels doing good deeds from grooming public parks to donating blood. Others strive for regional awareness on matters like ecology and migrant worker conditions. Silicon Valley is singularly obsessed with changing the world, bypassing government and top-down communications, engineering overthrows of dictators and creating crowdsource funding.
From a purely functional perspective, small government advocates win the argument. Preserving a culture of public participation, problem-solving experimentation and efficiencies demanded by private charity achieves positive change at low costs and with 100% voluntary participation (when the latter is lacking, we call it enslavement). Those who argue against small government tend to either have been part of the public problem or do not wish to be burdened with participating in charity directly. This leads to outsourcing to government the management of everything, which in turn leads to the monumental inefficiencies and heavy-handed abuses private and charitable organizations avoid. Everyone (including laissez faire libertarians) agree that government has a role in preserving the safety of shared natural resources such as clean air and water. Denizens of the political left do not fear unchaining that regulatory beast to control every aspect of any environment, which predictably led to stupidities such as a mud puddle on a ranch’s back forty being regulated as “wet lands” despite being 100 miles away from public waters and thus having zero environmental impact.
Until this philosophical impasse is broken, or until the Supreme Court is inhabited by honest jurists, public debate will rage and those who have erected their citadel of power in Washington will continue to chip away the foundation of freedom and sink society deeper into the fascist and financial sewer. Eliminating evil side effects of noble intent is the first step and requires elimination of inaccurate “cool government” delusions.
This will be messy, for belief in benevolent government is religion, and nobody likes you whizzing on their idol.