The usually reliable Washington Post-ABC News poll discovered last weekend that 58 percent of respondents want a smaller government — a number that has been growing for the last two years, and has reflected majority opinion year after year since the question was first asked in 1992.
It is an opinion that conflicts with reality. The federal government hired hundreds of thousands of new employees last year, mostly at the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs. The federal budget due out on Feb. 1 will ask for funds to hire another 100,000 or more.
Chances are that 99 percent or more of those hired for those federal jobs, (1) are glad to have them; (2) believe they are real jobs with a real and important purpose.
The fact is, of course, that our growing nation — there now are about 308 million Americans — requires a bigger federal payroll. Another fact is that most of those who tell a pollster they want a smaller government have reservations they don’t mention: smaller, yes, but big enough to run the Medicare program; protect the country against terrorists; be certain that the food we eat and the drugs we take are pure; provide good medical care and other services for the nation’s veterans; protect coastal cities against hurricanes and tidal waves; build smooth, safe highways; respond to natural disasters; manage the Social Security system; send out income tax refunds — and, in short, give us the goods and services the federal government exists to provide.
Americans have always held contradictory aspirations for their national government. They want U.S. armed forces to be the world’s best, with full awareness that it cannot also grow smaller and smaller each year and keep the U.S. Number One. We demand that Uncle Sam be part of the scientific community that develops a vaccine for the latest pandemic threat, insist that it provide that vaccine to the population quickly, complain to high heaven when it doesn’t — then tell pollsters we want a smaller, cheaper government.
Use your own example.
The additional employees hired by the feds are working for the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs. In which of those three would you rather see layoffs?
We are like children who want shorter school days, less homework, longer vacations, sweeter teachers, more desserts, fewer vegetables — but want to grow up to be a doctor, a lawyer, a movie star or president and live to be 100.
Some things don’t go together.
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