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Susan Estrich
5 Feb 2016
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Smaller Government, Anyone?


Maybe not this week.

With the oil spilling in the Gulf, it's hard to find too many people calling for less government and more reliance on the private sector.

Drill, Baby, Drill? Maybe not so fast.

BP, to its credit, is taking responsibility for the spill, promising to do everything it can to stem the disaster. But I haven't heard too many Louisiana Republicans telling the federal government to stay out of it and leave the cleanup to BP. Not even close.

A foolish consistency may be the hobgoblin of small minds, but when it comes to federalism and big government, the only consistency tends to be based on whose ox is being gored.

No one is for the feds staying out when their coastline, their industry and their economic and environmental well-being are at stake. On a bipartisan basis, the complaints are always that the feds are doing too little too late, not too much too soon. Is Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal now demanding more help from the feds? You bet he is.

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants more cameras. Darn right. Law enforcement agencies deserve credit for moving swiftly in the face of the terrifying near-bombing in Times Square. And I don't know a soul — even my hard-core civil liberties friends — who will be standing up this week demanding less surveillance in public places.

With two mining disasters in recent weeks, is anyone saying that the feds should get off the backs of mine owners and leave safety concerns to the private sector so we can get more coal more quickly?

New rules go into effect this week limiting the amount of time passengers can be kept sitting on airport runways, notwithstanding the airlines' protests that it will increase costs and complicate schedules if they have to return to the gate after three hours with nothing to eat or drink (and sometimes no functioning lavatories).

They can protest all they want, but I don't know too many frequent fliers — regardless of party affiliation — who oppose the new rules.

As a lawyer, I'm familiar with this particular phenomenon. Nobody likes lawyers (well, almost nobody) until they need one. But when you need a lawyer, everyone wants the best — the toughest, the most aggressive. People will swear up and down about outrageous recoveries and ridiculous awards, until they're injured and you explain to them that there are caps on their awards and limits on pain and suffering. Then they are outraged at the injustice.

The reverse of the old joke — that a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged — is equally true: A liberal is a conservative who's been investigated or, worse, "wrongly" charged.

The disaster in the Gulf is a timely reminder that the real issue isn't "big government" versus "small government." We are all guilty of wanting to pay for small government while getting the benefits of big government when we need it. Medicare and Social Security are classic instances of big government — and, also, the third rail in American politics. Environmentalists are easy to dismiss as anti-business, until an environmental disaster threatens to destroy the local economy or miners are trapped and killed in a collapse.

Simplistic rhetoric about "cutting the size of government," "leaving things to the private sector" and "reducing regulation" may score on political polls, but this week most people recognize that what we really need is strong, effective government to keep our people safe and our economy strong.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



11 Comments | Post Comment
Right ON, Susan! You might also point out that for the federal government to do what we expect it to do in such situations, it costs money. Republican administrations and Congresses have a habit of quietly cutting the funding of regulatory agencies that they don't like "meddling" in the business of business, which accomplishes two GOP aims: less enforcement of the laws and the "proof" that "government can't do anything right" when the inevitable consequences of lax enforcement occur. GOPers will blame every federal agency they can name for "letting" these disasters happen, you can be sure.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Laurie Craw
Tue May 4, 2010 9:54 PM
Right ON! Let's increase the size of government, hire many more government workers, destroy private industry and the so called wealthy who we love to hate and tax.
The liberals will use every 'crisis' and excuse they can to expand federal government beyond irs constitutional limits! PLEASE - read the Constitution, don't interpret it, READ IT!
Comment: #2
Posted by: Early
Wed May 5, 2010 8:18 AM
Actually Susan, you make a great case for smaller government with your argument. Government needs to be involved with the big issues granted by the Constitution. In April 2009, the government exempted BP from certain environmental rules because their three disaster scenarios did not include the disaster that actually occurred. The environmental rules should be applied equally to all, but who knows who got what from BP lobbyists (it was April 2009, cannot blame Bush). If Massey had been fined so many times in the past for violations at its coal mines, the government should have already shut them down. But failed. Again, government rules were in place, not followed. It is not that we need more government, we need government to enforce the rules in place.
Securing the nations citizens is also a key task of the government. Enforcing the Immigration and Nationality Act may go a long way to keeping us secure. Again, we may have got lucky on catching the guy before the plane took off to Dubai, but those are the roles we expect of government, as it is mandated by the Constitution.
Get the government out of bailing out banks and auto companies. Bad decisions mean companies fail. Get the government out of determining how much health care we are forced to buy, but regulating that citizens are treated fairly for the product they choose to buy.
We need the smaller government to do what it is supposed to do and to do it well. It has expanded so much that it is now incompetent in most endeavors. Smaller government is still what we need. We just need it to do the important things better.
Comment: #3
Posted by: lvtaxman
Wed May 5, 2010 9:58 AM
I think the idea of smaller government stems from the basic inefficiency most Americans see in Washington. Everything there is so bogged down in red tape, special interests, bi-partison squabbling, etc, that getting fast action is nearly impossible. If they weren't so busy looking for ways to benefit, they'd get more done. What we really need is a more efficent government without those just feeding at the trough.

P.S. - People actually still say "Right ON!" ?
Comment: #4
Posted by: Eric Alder
Wed May 5, 2010 12:01 PM
Maybe these states who are asking for government help have seen so much of their money flow to the federal government that they say "what the heck we might as well have the feds print us some too." Maybe we wouldn't be in this fix if Jimmy Carter hadn't gutted the Intelligence Agencies. And quite possibly if Clinton hadn't allowed Barney and Freddie and Fannie and Chris Dodd to relax all of the rules on responsible lending we would have avoided the economic bust. And just maybe if the administration quits pussy footing around with the Islamic terrorists we might be able to stop these people from trying to kill us instead of just being lucky that they failed. Ask yourself are we really safe anymore after Carter, Clinton and Obama and their big government agendas? Remember it's 'Government of the people, for the people, by the people not government for the ideals of the political elite.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Jack Murphy
Wed May 5, 2010 12:55 PM
Way to go Susan. Don't ever let a tragedy go unexploited.
Comment: #6
Posted by: David Kidd
Wed May 5, 2010 1:33 PM
I doubt the gov't will do much in this case -- from what I hear it doesn't even have one oil containment boom in the Gulf. Even if it did, those booms only mitigate some aspects of the spill. An important question for me is "Was this spill caused by BP failing to comply with Gov't regulations?" An answer of "no" would put a damper on the liberal's "regulation is the answer to every problem -- except Immigration" battle cry.
Comment: #7
Posted by: scott365
Wed May 5, 2010 6:30 PM
Judging from the comments here, you'd think the U.S. government caused the oil spill, the miner's deaths, and the NYC car bomb. No, BP/Transocean/Hallburton, Massey, and a Pakistani-American caused those things by their actions or inactions. "It's the government's fault!" is just the other side of the coin from "The government ought to do more!" Conservatives who blame government for everything wrong are no better than liberals who want government to make everything better. Our anger should be directed at the companies or individuals who caused the problem. I agree with lvtaxman that the central issue is efficient and effective enforcement of existing laws. However, too often politics gets in the way of enforcement. The career enforcement employees of EPA, for example, can be encouraged or discouraged, enabled or disabled by the reigning political party to enforce environmental laws.
Comment: #8
Posted by: Laurie Craw
Wed May 5, 2010 9:28 PM
The oil spill/disaster in the Gulf is either a horrible accident, an event of massive incompetence (which I doubt because it virtually NEVER happens), or maybe even a planned event (by whom, I have no idea.) Whatever the cause, the Federal GOVERNMENT was (again) far too slow to respond. This is Obama's "Katrina". It's funny how different it feels when you're in the hot seat, right Susan? BIG government failed the people who suffered from Katrina, just as this regime has failed in the Gulf to react in time to prevent an eco-disaster. This oil spill is a massive disaster, but of course the philosophy of the White House is to never let a crisis be wasted. So, the develpment of off-shore drilling will be set back decades and we can expect to pay through the nose. BP will pay, but we will pay more. And watch for cap-and-trade to drain the people of every drop of life blood left. What's the connection? Energy. This crisis will not go to waste. We will be taxed for breathing. Unless we stand up again and beat them back. It's exhausting to try to defeat these darn globalists (Big Government includes both Republicans and Democrats) when they exploit even an oil spill to justify their existence, even though completely incompetent.
Comment: #9
Posted by: Joanna
Wed May 5, 2010 10:25 PM
I think the only thing big government has done so far is point fingers and pat themselves on the back. The government had no fire booms on hand and BP has come up with the only new idea to try which may or may not work. I see the Coast Guard and the Navy on scene but they would be there, big or small government.
Comment: #10
Posted by: jbaugher
Thu May 6, 2010 4:48 AM
"this week most people recognize that what we really need is strong, effective government to keep our people safe and our economy strong."

True, but that's certainly not what we have, and it's certainly not what we're going to get if our politicians keep spending money that doesn't exist and creating new laws that govern what doesn't need to be governed. Seriously, do we want the nation to follow New York and California's oh so wonderful examples? Do we want a constitutional amendment banning trans fats and happy meal toys? I want a government that can actually get the job (any job) accomplished. Not one that is legislating this country into oblivion.

It's easy for a lawyer and journalist such as Susan to say we need more government when her two main focuses are generally exempt from government intrusion (the government cannot interfere with attorney-client dealings, nor can it restrict freedom of the press). Let's see if the sentiment is the same when the government decides that the press should no longer be self-regulating. What was that about someone else's ox being gored?
Comment: #11
Posted by: Nathan H.
Thu May 6, 2010 9:12 AM
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