In 2007, USA Today reported. “Like a ticking time bomb, the national debt is an explosion waiting to happen. It’s expanding by about $1.4 billion a day – or nearly $1 million a minute. What’s that mean to you? It means almost $30,000 in debt for each man, woman, child and infant in the United States.” Three years later Congress has raised the national debt ceiling yet again — to an unprecedented and even more astronomical $14 trillion. From healthcare to climate change, stimulus to war, virtually every conversation coming out of today’s Washington, DC-regardless of which party is in power — is about how much money our government is going to spend next.

Not surprisingly, countless Americans are now realizing that the greatest threat to their life, liberty and property is their government. Describing such people as “deranged,” New York Times columnist Frank Rich seems to think the greatest danger on the horizon is not necessarily big government-but “extremists” hell-bent on fighting it. Writes Rich:

(M)ost Tea Party groups have no affiliation with the G.O.P. despite the party’s ham-handed efforts to co-opt them. The more we learn about the Tea Partiers, the more we can see why. They loathe John McCain and the free-spending, TARP-tainted presidency of George W. Bush. They really do hate all of Washington, and if they hate Obama more than the Republican establishment, it’s only by a hair or two. The Tea Partiers want to eliminate most government agencies, starting with the Fed and the I.R.S., and end spending on entitlement programs. They are not to be confused with the Party of No holding forth in Washington – a party that, after all, is now positioning itself as a defender of Medicare spending. What we are talking about here is the Party of No Government at All.

What Rich derisively calls the “Party of No Government at All,” has been a healthy and long overdue reaction to what we have now — the Party of Any-and-All Government. Flustered over the rise of anti-Washington “extremism,” establishment men like Rich continue to ignore that our current, virtually omnipotent federal government is pretty damn extreme itself-that is, if the U.S. Constitution is still any gauge on what American government should be and not simply the status quo sympathies of a NYT‘s columnist.

Rich paints a picture in which the supposedly respectable conservative movement of the recent past has been hijacked by the ghost of John Birch and the specter of Ron Paul. But Rich has it exactly backward-there has been no mainstream movement advocating for limited government conservatism for decades, only the GOP using conservative rhetoric as a marketing tool to win elections. The conservative movement isn’t being hijacked-it’s being resuscitated. Rich notices the difference; he just doesn’t like it:

The distinction between the Tea Party movement and the official G.O.P. is real, and we ignore it at our peril. While Washington is fixated on the natterings of Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Michael Steele and the presumed 2012 Republican presidential front-runner, Mitt Romney, these and the other leaders of the Party of No are anathema or irrelevant to most Tea Partiers. Indeed, McConnell, Romney and company may prove largely irrelevant to the overall political dynamic taking hold in America right now. The old G.O.P. guard has no discernible national constituency beyond the scattered, often impotent remnants of aging country club Republicanism. The passion on the right has migrated almost entirely to the Tea Party’s counterconservatism.

As the old GOP guard scrambles to put rank-and-file conservatives back in line so they can vote for Republicans like Mitt Romney who might save Medicare or spend trillions on another war, tea partiers, libertarians, and constitutionalists of all stripes should take solace in the fact that despite their critics–radical loyalty to limited government principles has long been a hallmark of American conservatism. Or as the original right-wing extremist, Barry Goldwater explained in his famous 1960 book The Conscience of a Conservative:

The turn will come when we entrust the conduct of our affairs to the men who understand that their first duty as public officials is to divest themselves of the power that they have been given. It will come when Americans, in hundreds of communities throughout the nation, decide to put the man in office who is pledged to enforce the Constitution and restore the Republic. Who will proclaim in a campaign speech: ‘I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel the old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed in their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is ‘needed’ before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ ‘interests,’ I shall reply that I was informed their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can.’