Right wing forces in this country are obsessed with the size of government, but the fundamental debate we should be having is not about size but what the goal of government should be. What is government’s central mission?
There are four major views on this question in modern American politics, two in each political party.
The first Republican view is boiled down to the central organizing principle that government should be as small as possible. That’s it.
Size (the small variety) not only matters, but is the only thing that matters. Any mission or goal that government has is overridden and overwhelmed by the urgent desire to make it smaller. Whether cuts in the size of government are rationally planned doesn’t matter, as their rhetoric on the sequester makes clear. Whether cuts in the size of government hurt people or hurt the economy as a whole doesn’t matter either. I've heard heart-breaking stories, for example, of parents with disabled kids lobbying against the cuts that will devastate the programs that help their children, with Republican congressmen telling them it doesn’t matter, we just have to cut the size of government. Grover Norquist famously said that he wants to make government so small that he can drown it in a bathtub, and his Tea Party comrades are clearly trying to do exactly that at the cost of everything else.
While all Republicans talk about wanting to make government smaller, the other Republican view on what the mission of government should be is less focused on size, and more focused on this central thing: serving the needs of big business. This idea was most famously (or infamously) articulated by the former Republican chair of the House Committee on Financial Services in 2011 when he said “In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.”