Possibly the biggest argument against big government is that if it weren't so big we'd wait until election years to hold election-year arguments over what to do about big government.
President Barack Obama understands the calculus concerning the endless election campaign. While angling for the Republican support he requires to get anything useful or useless -- either one -- passed by Congress, Obama bashes the Republicans, whose policies, he informs us, would "fundamentally cripple America." Sheer showmanship.
So, too, the furor and foofaraw over a Republican race whose start, in better times, could have been postponed at least until the winter before the election. The candidates draw lines in the sand that they may wish, a year from now, they could obliterate.
Take Rick Perry's pratfall on illegal immigration -- the business in last week's debate about the heartlessness of opposing in-state college tuition for illegal immigrant children. The declaration Perry made was certainly artless, reflecting the tricks and traps a candidate encounters in a national as contrasted with a state campaign. What you can say at home, you can't necessarily say while abroad.
Perry's remark has shrouded much of the magical moonlight that until recently, shone on his countenance. "Now," says the commentator Brit Hume, "it appears he has a position in immigration which is anathema to a lot of conservatives. So this really hurts him with the base."
Did the immigration issue, such as it is, need to emerge this early as a headline-maker? Rescuing and reviving the economy was supposed to be the issue, but when you have to campaign 14 months out from the election, there's a lot of conversational dead space to fill. You end up talking -- especially the media -- about everything under the sun, important, trivial or in-between.
Three related points commend themselves here when the topic is immigration: 1) So deep a question requires thoughtful analysis. 2) But analysis it ain't getting, and ain't going to get, not on a campaign trail as long and convoluted as this one. 3) Therefore, we hum along with sound bites and bumper-sticker slogans -- stuff that divides sheep from goats, without deepening anyone's understanding, or advancing possible solutions.
The immigration issue, as understood in Texas by, among others, the state's governor, needs careful sorting out and delicate weighing. You don't exactly accomplish either end in response to a question meant basically to titillate an audience.
Texas, as everyone knows, was once a part of Mexico. Mexicans have always lived there. They juice up the culture and the cuisine. There are many more of them now then there used to be. Many came there illegally. Can one always know the difference? No - it's the negative that works both in Spanish and English.
What should our policy be regarding illegals? Build a fence along the Rio Grande, says Michelle Bachmann. Would that solve the problem? Probably not. What would? Mass arrests? Sure, if you want to start a civil war, with business -- which depends heavily on Hispanic labor -- opposing the cops and the deputies.
Rick Perry's offense, besides imputing heartlessness to assailants of his policy of in-state-tuition-for-some (hardly-all) illegals, was to suggest that the illegal immigration problem, fed by so many streams of policy and private action, is unreachable through Gordian Knot solutions.
That's not what a great many want to hear, of course, about illegal immigration. "Is he fer' it or agin' it?" is what they want to know, and so do those elements of the media that feast on big-time controversy. Here we are then, tearing Perry apart, asking whether we should stick a fork in him, maybe send him back to plugging coyotes.
Very dispiriting. There's a major case waiting to be made concerning the America we think we want in 2012. If only we could listen long enough to reflect, to weigh, to consider. Not enough time, it seems. Campaigning -- that's all we have time for. It's 14 months out and there is more convincing proof than ever that big and constantly getting bigger government may be the greatest of modern blights.