By Carol Costello and Bob Ruff
The size and role of government, not surprisingly, has been a popular subject of presidential inaugural speeches.
Remember JFK in 1961? “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
And Ronald Reagan 20 years later: “….government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
Bill Clinton said this in 1993: “It is time to break the bad habit of expecting something for nothing from our government or from each other.”
And one year ago Barack Obama picked up the government theme in his inaugural address: “The question… today is not whether our government is too big or small, but whether it works.”
What’s interesting is that no matter what each man said about government, government itself just kept on growing. Even conservative President George Bush, from 2001 to 2009, presided over the largest dollar increases in regulatory spending in decades, according to George Mason University.
We went over to the Office of the Federal Register in Washington, DC., to the building where the government stores all the books that list and explain every Federal regulation. The rows and rows of packed shelves are testament to the breadth and depth of government involvement in our lives. In 1951 there were just 41 volumes of regulations. Today there are 222 volumes containing 160,000 pages.
We asked Mr. Libertarian, Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), who ran for president on a platform of small government, what he thought about all this spending and regulation.
“Government always grows,” he told us. “You never see any years where you have less employees (or) the budget actually shrinks. It just doesn’t happen.”
Why does it keep growing?
Even Paul acknowledges it’s because “people want government. You know they complain about government. They complain about taxes, but they want all the good stuff. They don’t want to pay for it.”
Paul sees no real difference between the two major parties when it comes to government growth. Right now the “Republicans are doing better because the Democrats look worse than the Republicans (on spending)….but the Republicans have lost a lot of credibility. They had their chance. They had eight years. Both on foreign policy and domestic policy and deficits–and that’s why there’s a tea party movement.”
William Eggers takes a different view of all of this. He co-authored a book about effective government. When it comes to the size of government, Eggers says big government gets a bad rap.
Everything from the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe to the abatement removal of acid rain at home demonstrates that government can be effective. Where government goes bad, Eggers says, is when it tries to do too much. “Think about yourself,” he says, “If you try to do too many things, it’s hard to do anything well.”
There are so many examples of government failure that it’s hard to pick just one. We like the example of President Ford’s “Whip Inflation Now” program. In an October 1974 address to Congress he even urged Americans to wear “WIN” (Whip Inflation Now) buttons. That idea was eventually derided as a public relations stunt.
Today, the specter of an ever-expanding government is cited as one reason why President Obama’s popularity has fallen, and why Democrats lost a crucial Senate seat in a special election this week. Eggers says the president must convince Americans that government CAN work, even if it’s big.