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Small-Government Conservative Self-Sabotage (II)

Dan McCarthy once again spells out how the shutdown gambit–and the attitude behind it–undermined the cause of reducing the size and power of the government:

But is anyone who is psychologically satisfied by actions that in fact cost taxpayers additional money, and that are counterproductive in the public arena, really an opponent of big government? A feeling of courageous satisfaction here is perverse: it subverts the principle it’s supposed to support.

Imagine what the Tea Party would accomplish if this incident became paradigmatic: government would grow, anti-government sentiment would be discredited, and the people responsible for both would continue to applaud themselves as the only true champions of limited-government principle.

This touches on points that Dan and I havemadebefore. It does no good to say that one is defending a principle by adopting tactics that are sure to fail and bring greater disfavor on the principle. Far from persuading more people to support what small-government conservatives seek, this actively drives them away and makes them even more skeptical of what those conservatives want.

It does conservatives no favors to celebrate poor judgment by the politicians that claim to speak for them, but that is what many conservative admirers of Cruz and his allies expect. It does nothing to persuade people already wary of trusting Republicans with power that they should pay more attention to conservative arguments when those arguments are linked with gratuitous and pointless political stunts. Because small-government conservatism is a harder sell than many of the alternatives, it is especially important for its advocates to make good judgments about what is possible and to make sound decisions that prove that they are capable of running a government of reduced and limited powers. Neither of these has been on display in the last few weeks, everyone can see it, and it would be senseless for anyone to offer up spin to the contrary. Conservative voters are frequently failed by their putative leaders, who tell them flattering and self-serving stories that allow them to believe that their interests are being served by whatever it is that the leaders happen to be doing. When that is not the case, it is important to say so and to warn conservative voters that the people claiming to represent them are in error.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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