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First, there were the Articles of Confederation, where America tried act more like a block association with an army, but that didn’t really work out. Then came the Constitution, a simple elegant document that built the framework upon which the laws of this land were established.

These laws could be as few or as many as possible. And ever since the rise of the conservative movement, there has been a grand debate on the role of government in our lives. It’s a worthy debate about what makes a nation great, and what people can expect from their government. The role of the individual versus the collective good. Incentive for the best and brightest versus safety for all our citizens regardless of their status. The wisdom of the markets versus the watchfulness of the government.

In theory.

Practically, here’s how it seems to work: America is in some sort of crisis. Nobody else can manage such problems on a grand scale so the government steps up and does the best it can. The government gets really large and bloated. Long after the problem is solved, or the crisis is averted, a scandal goes down involving corrupt government officials, and suddenly people are wondering, “What the hell do we need all this government for?” and “Who the hell is FICA?”

So the siren song of tax cuts and small government starts to sound good. Deregulation and corporate welfare begin to sound awesome. Before you know it, America is chugging along as a lean, mean, shareholder-benefiting machine. Sure, not everybody makes it, But you know what? That’s life. There are winners, and there are losers. If you don’t get it done, you’re just a loser. But you can keep believing that maybe some of the bounty of the winners will trickle down to you. And that someday, you’ll get off your ass and you’ll be a winner.

But then things aren’t so good, as you find out some of the winners didn’t get that way through hard work and innovation, but got there through the steroids of debt, unusual accounting practices, fleecing the public a little, and gaming the system. and enough of these so-called “winners” find that their shell game is getting less and less effective.

Then a crisis happens. Then, everybody is all like, “Where the hell is the government?”

I’m not a believer in big government or small government. What the nation needs to believe in is effective government up to meeting the needs of its people. And quite frankly, right now and for a while, that’s going to mean bigger government. And personally, I hope things get better to the point someday that we can start talking reasonably about reducing government again.

Practicality is a principle. Right now, it’s not practical to have a government sit on its hands and do nothing while a great nation sinks under the weight of a financial crisis, two wars, Social Security and health care problems.

Let’s not kid ourselves anyway: how small was the government, really? Isn’t what we currently have just a different kind of bloated government that actually doesn’t solve anything, but still manages to bleed money and ring up debt anyway? If we’re going to have big government, let’s accept it, deal with it, and make it work. Lets get all these rich “patriots” to pony up their fair share to keep up and fix the country that gave them the conditions to benefit financially. Drop the completely-for-show flag pins and lose the offshore assets and tax shelters as real sign of their commitment to this country. Same thing for alleged Great American companies who continue to blackmail the government wth “we’ll move to India or Ireland”.

Enough of this jabber about small government that never was, and never will be.  It’s time to talk about practical government.

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