In 2009, conservative filmmaker James O’Keefe and a friend dressed as a pimp and prostitute to secretly videotape officials with the government-backed, low income housing advocacy group ACORN. ACORN officials in multiple offices ended up trying to help the couple with advice on how to evade taxes and avoid detection of their made-up sex-trafficking and child prostitution business. This month, O’Keefe released videos of a man going to various state health and human services departments claiming to be a supporter of the IRA (Irish Republican Army). The kilt-clad man asked if “25 Irish nationals” who were “basically shot up in a skirmish in Belfast” could receive Medicaid. The government employees agreed to help him and also to keep the legal and questionable nature of the intended recipients confidential.
Both stories made national headlines and we can no doubt expect similar exposes from O’Keefe in the future. The mission statement of O’Keefe’s organization Project Veritas is to “investigate and expose corruption, dishonesty, self-dealing, waste, fraud, and other misconduct.” He really has his work cut out for him—as each of these terms will always end up being better general descriptions than unusual exceptions concerning any investigation of today’s government.
Simply put—big government doesn’t work. For that matter, neither does small government. The Founding Fathers’ philosophy on the state—particularly Thomas Jefferson and his followers—was that government was an unavoidably evil and therefore should be as limited and minimal as possible. These men even wrote a legal charter that was very specific in explaining how and where our national government should be restrained. At one time, elected officials paid it heed. Today, Washington leaders do little more than pay it lip service.
If Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution outlines the particular and limited functions of the federal government, Washington, DC today considers itself virtually limitless—involving itself in everything from education to healthcare and beyond. The ever-increasing size and scope of government has correlated with an ever-increasing amount of waste and corruption, which inevitably goes hand-in-hand with any centralization of power, great or small. The fraud and deceit O’Keefe uncovered at ACORN and the abuse he found in the Medicaid system shocked many. It shouldn’t have. A report in May that some of the 2008 bank bailout money went to financial institutions in Libya surprised many. It shouldn’t have. A report this week that much of the foreign aid we send to Afghanistan goes to fuel the insurgency there is shocking to many. It shouldn’t be shocking.
This is simply what big government does—you know, that monstrosity in Washington, DC that Democrats now vigorously insist cannot be cut or reduced in any manner? To be sure, modern government performs some important functions, and makes certain trains run on time, but its ability to regulate virtually everything on a mass scale naturally requires it to be massive—and with such largesse comes unavoidable corruption. Such a large centralized power structure will inevitably become more defined by its flaws than its supposed functions, and this is certainly true today of our federal government. Most liberals instinctively see “big business” as inherently evil and corrupt compared to small business, and they are not necessarily wrong. The heavy centralization of power, public or private, should always be cause for concern. But the corruption the Left sees as characteristic of big business is just as applicable to big government—and even more so, given accountability issues and the power to tax at will. Many rightly worry about corporate monopolies—but the largest monopoly on earth is the United States government.
The problem with big government is not simply that it is “bad” government, but that it is a government too large. The problem is systemic, not mere occasional flaws, peculiar to situations like ACORN or Medicaid.
One of the best descriptions of the enduring problem of big government was given by Boston University professor and author Andrew Bacevich in his New York Times bestseller The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism: “The chief attribute of the actually existing system—all of the institutions, structures, and arrangements implied by the word Washington—is dysfunction. As the federal city emerged as the center of American power, it was occupied by a gang that couldn’t shoot straight. Regardless of which party is in power, the people in charge don’t know what they’re doing.”
Bacevich adds: “As a consequence, policies devised by Washington tend to be extravagant, wasteful, ill-conceived, misguided, unsuccessful, or simply beside the point… The problem is that what we have doesn’t work.”
When a muckraking citizen journalist like O’Keefe investigates government corruption, he does us all a service. But his work isn’t simply about ACORN, Medicaid or any other agency he targets in the future. O’Keefe gives us glimpses into a federal system that is corrupt in its totality. The lessons from his work should not be that certain federal programs need repair but that our national government is hopelessly broken. Modern government doesn’t need reform as much as it needs drastic reduction. And anyone who suggests that throwing even more money into that black hole called Washington, DC is the solution to any of our problems simply isn’t paying attention.