Those of a certain age — meaning we recall where we were when Kennedy was shot and the size of Jerry Lee Lewis' pompadour — know the venerability of the question of how much government is too much government and how much the answers vary over time. It depends for one thing on how much government you've got when the question gets asked.
And yet recent polls on this urgent topic are of eye-popping caliber. The liberal exponent of "Big Government Now, Big Government Forever" has to feel chills ascending his spine. He would have to have on insulated underwear not to.
A USA TODAY/Gallup poll finds six in 10 of us are concerned that government has grown too powerful. Nearly half agree with the statement: "The federal government poses an immediate threat to the rights and needs of ordinary citizens."
Released Oct. 6, a Rasmussen poll speaks nearly identical words in a nearly identical tone. Fifty-three percent believe the federal government has too much power over the economy. A mere 20 percent wish we'd lay on more government than ever seen before.
The upcoming election grows not only more interesting, but also more crucial in the classic sense of decisive; vital to the resolution of a crisis. The apostles of Big Government are about to get kicked in the teeth — according to their deserts. You won't see any more health care-style takeovers emerging hot and smoking from the legislative oven anytime soon. That's not the end of it, even so. If six in 10 Americans think the government does too much (and does it badly, too, most likely would add), the job ahead for the Republican/tea party group in control for the next couple of years will be that of reversing the past decade's errors.
I speak of the past decade rather than just the past two years. We have been on a national bender, as almost everyone recognizes: spending money like a flotilla of drunken sailors and enlarging government in the process. Did we really have to add a prescription benefit to Medicare? Maybe not, but we did, and a Republican president signed off on it.
How, and how fast, to climb back to reality will be the question. Republican leaders, and there will be some, who suppose the voters this fall are voting for business-as-usual, with earmarks and junkets for all, are nuts. This election, to repeat myself, is crucial. Any new congressman or senator who denies it — any old one for that matter — is in need of a sofa on which to lie, while recounting to an analyst-tortured memoir of how his kid brother was always the favored brat.
The counsel that should be printed on Republican minds comes from, ironically, none other than Rahm Emanuel, who was splendidly right when he counseled that you never let a crisis go to waste. He didn't mean it the way the Republican/tea party coalition will presumably mean it, but that's OK, because the urgent behaviors he enjoined, not the policies, are what count.
If voters think government is too big and intrusive, the indicated action is make it smaller, reduce its intrusions. At the least — the rock bottom, bare-naked least — Congress has to start whittling down the cost and impositions associated with health care. We all have to purchase insurance? Come on — that's the problem the voters discern: finger-wagging, big nanny government telling ordinary people what to do — and charging for it, to make matters worse.
Oh, was Ronald Reagan right! Government isn't the solution, it's the problem. Had we remembered that sage counsel with the acuity its originator intended, we might still be in a mess today, but it wouldn't be the same size mess, nor would dismantling it be so vast a challenge.
A great and bracing moment, this, when something like clarity exists as to the botch we've made of furthering freedom and prosperity by failing to rein in big, bad, bossy government. Well, we know now. We also know what we'd better do about it and fast.
William Murchison is the author of "Mortal Follies: Episcopalians and the Crisis of Mainline Christianity." To find out more about William Murchison and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.