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The IRS Building in Washington, D.C.
Associated Press/Photo by Susan Walsh
The IRS Building in Washington, D.C.

Big Government: Too big to function

Government

The biggest push to expand government from any administration since the 1960s is alternately unraveling in scandal and flying out of the grip of its makers.

A $787 billion stimulus effort got diverted into projects designed for political, not economic, payoff and speculative green energy disasters like Solyndra and Fisker Automotive, or was simply lost in the spending frenzy. Its healthcare reform law was so big and complicated that then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told us we had to pass it first to find out what was in it. Now we find that the Internal Revenue Service, that behemoth of arbitrary government power, has been intimidating and suppressing conservative speech.

Jonah Goldberg reports, “Drew Ryun gave up trying to get IRS approval for a free market organization after 17 months of bureaucratic stonewalling. But when he applied for approval of an organization called ‘Greenhouse Solutions’ he got the go-ahead in three weeks”

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This corruption goes far beyond a small cell of over-politicized, low-level bureaucrats in Cincinnati. Anne Hendershott, a conservative Roman Catholic academic, was dragged into a Connecticut office for interrogation over business expenses related to her occasional pro-life editorials. The scope of this politically chilling campaign from the most terrifying arm of the federal government is nationwide. Meanwhile, the official who administered the offending division of the IRS now runs the IRS office that will enforce collection for Obamacare.

President Barack Obama claims he knew nothing of this until he saw it in the news. So is it any surprise that more Americans are suspecting that big government leads inevitably to rogue administration on a massive scale? Former White House adviser David Axelrod seemed to admit as much, saying, “Part of being president is there’s so much underneath you because the government is so vast.”

Government’s job is to punish evil and praise good (1 Peter 2:14)—preventing nuclear attacks, enforcing laws for our safety against very bad people, and collecting taxes from people who don’t want to pay them—so it requires a concentration of power.

But the power to protect is the power to oppress. Government of men over men is unavoidably human—all too human. People in government cover the spectrum of virtue and vice, excellence and incompetence, so to be safe they need accountability—the rule of law, democratic election, checks and balances, etc.

But safe government also requires proportionality. The other side of “too big to fail” is “too big to function.” How well could your local school serve fifth graders if it were the size of the University of Michigan? Government needs to be scaled appropriately to the people it serves.

Government is good within a limited sphere. Proportionality means that government should not take on more than it can naturally handle. You don’t give it tasks best suited for families or for God. With the national debt approaching a suffocating $17 trillion and the IRS thrashing out of control, the time seems ripe to consider the logistical limits to what we can do for each other through government.

D.C. Innes
D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.

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