Even the private employers in D.C. are here only because Uncle Sam is. From think tanks to law firms, everyone’s trying to influence Congress, the president or the bureaucracy. Unless, that is, they’re working for the bureaucracy. After all, it’s impossible to live in the D.C. area for long without meeting neighbors and making friends who work low-level jobs in various government bureaus. These people are usually nice enough, but on a large scale they’re part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Talk radio works everywhere else because, when the host says, “We ought to make the federal government smaller,” many listeners agree. As a Pew survey last fall revealed, “conservatives continue to outnumber liberals by roughly two-to-one (currently 38 percent conservative vs. 19 percent liberal).”
Conservative proposals win elections. On the campaign trail, Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich both promised to eliminate the Department of Education. But once in Washington, they failed to do so. Because of that, it still existed for George W. Bush to expand with the foolish “No Child Left Behind.” The size of the Education Department increased 69.6 percent between 2002 and 2004. And rest assured, if anyone ever attempts to cut it back, even to its already bloated 2001 levels, liberals would howl.
Talk radio doesn’t work here for the same reason a radio station in Detroit would fail if it proposed shutting down auto plants: A radio station in a company town can’t tick off employees of that company.
There may be a chance to change the dynamic, though. In the latest issue of The Atlantic magazine, columnist Jonathan Rauch celebrated the fact that the presidential primaries start so early these days. Rauch says that could give a candidate the chance to tell voters who’ll be named to his/her cabinet. “If Giuliani and Clinton, or McCain and Obama, or whoever and whoever, stitched up the nomination in mid-February, they could easily vet and name slates of key appointees in time for the conventions,” Rauch notes.
Well, let’s put that to the test. Any nominee who wants conservative support should vow right now that he won’t fill some of his cabinet positions. He’ll leave, say Education unstaffed. Maybe even a few others. That way, instead of growing from the bottom up, our federal bureaucracy can start shrinking from the top down.