Conservatives Differ Greatly on the Role of GovernmentThere is a wide variance in beliefs among conservatives about what the size and scope of government should be. Overall, conservatives will likely agree that government has gotten far too large and beyond constitutional intentions. Conservatives favor a stronger system of federalism, where state and local governments make most decisions and the federal government takes a back seat to local decisions, not a dictatorial role. But views are divergent. As an example, with education some conservatives accept the current role of the federal government in setting some education policy, while others would like to dissolve the Department of Education altogether, and others support a fully government-free education system. Perhaps the most common approach is to re-localize education solutions and support parent and student choice.
On the conservative- libertarian end, it is believed that government’s sole role is to protect citizens from criminals and foreign invaders, with the private sector handling most other roles. Some conservatives support laws on marriage, while others say it should be decided in the church. Some support the War on Drugs, while others do not. The general agreement among conservatives is that less government is better government, but there is still regular and healthy debate about what the government should and should not do.
Necessary Government, Not Anti-GovernmentConservatives reject the notion that they oppose government as a general rule. What conservatives support is small, effective and necessary government. Is it necessary to tax citizens to fund otherwise-sustainable projects such a public broadcasting? Citizens Against Government Waste tallies wasteful spending by the federal government. Alone, most of these wasteful “pork spending” projects would never be passed, but are shoved into larger bills that will undoubtedly become law.
The two question conservatives ask when it comes to government are: 1) Is government intervention necessary? 2) Could the task be done better by individuals and the private sector? A military and police forces are rational uses of government. Whether or not nation-building, global funding of “initiatives,” and welfare for foreign countries are responsible uses as defense spending is another matter. It also makes sense that the government handles other services such as the building and planning of roads and highways.
Solving ProblemsMost conservatives today support the public funding of education and even a welfare safety net. But we will also support an opt-out system for many government programs, rather than a one-size-fits-all government approach. This is why conservatives support school choice, allowing parents to choose whether their child goes to a public, private, or charter school without being financially punished. The social security system is here to stay, whether conservatives like it or not. But they support an opt-out system where younger Americans can opt to place their retirement into private accounts instead of leaving their future security available only at the whims of the federal government. And if you want government-run healthcare that is fine, but no need to destroy the private healthcare system and force everyone to pay for and participate in an inefficient and choice-deficient one.
When it comes to welfare, conservatives do not necessarily oppose all welfare. But is it necessary that taxpayers fund the use of millions upon millions of cell phones and subsidize high-speed internet for millions more? When it comes to hand-outs, would money be better spent giving it to charities – yes, even churches - to run projects instead of government bureaucrats? Conservatives are results-oriented, not process-oriented. Rather than believing that it is the thought that counts, we prefer results. Then we ask: what is the best way to solve a problem? The answer is rarely more government. But sometimes the answer is government. Just not usually.