Other things on their minds

Posted: May 25, 2005 12:00 AM

This past weekend I went to a baby shower (Hold your horses, gentlemen. I swear there?s something in here for you). The mother-to-be looked beautiful, and a bevy of Southern women fluttered around her-- hugging, exclaiming, and laying out a spread of finger food roughly the length and volume of a box car.

     Three generations of three American families talked baby weights, names and namesakes; mothers and grandmothers nodded knowingly as they estimated necessary diaper tonnage; the dad-to-be took in a little target practice until he was called to load up the pile of pink-hued prenatal contributions.

     What didn?t come up was the philosophy of the judicial filibuster, Social Security reform, or the federal budget deficit. Many people who read this column will wonder how that could be, particularly those who work in D.C.?a town in which ?wherever two or three come together, there is Social Security reform with them,? is gospel just as sure as Matthew 18:20.

     But it happened, and it happens all the time. Is it because these folks are all ignorant, unintellectual red-staters? Is it because they are apathetic by nature and can?t muster the will to stay informed of all the important things happening in Washington? No and no. The diagnosis is much simpler than that. It is because they are normal.

     I?m the one who?s weird. People who spend all day long reading, lobbying, and charting the workings of that white-domed building on a hill are not normal. People who read The Hill and Roll Call, three metro newspapers, and 30 blogs a day are not normal. Normal people can?t act like that because they lead normal lives?driving minivans and steering businesses, paying the bills and funding fieldtrips.

     Since I moved to Washington, I?ve heard complaints from both sides of the aisle and all the areas in between??Why,? wonder these D.C.-dwellers, ?aren?t people more involved in the political process, and how do we get them involved??

     I have an idea for solving the problem. How do you get busy folks more involved with the workings of their government? Simple?make the government smaller.

     Here are some numbers to think about. The Capitol Building alone is 175,170 square feet with a floor area of about 16 acres? that?s about 70 ranch-style homes and 32 house lots. On one day last week in the Senate, there were 10 hearings held before Days of Our Lives was over. And that?s only one branch of government.

     The federal government will collect about $18,000 per household in taxes this year?or, enough to buy 1,410 azalea bushes for your ranch-style home and still have money left over for this grill. But in order to figure out where that money goes, you?d have to wade through a $2.5 trillion budget (that?s 12 zeros; I looked it up), for which there is no layman?s analogy because the number is simply too big.

     The list of figures could go on and on. The federal government is so monstrous that no one person can possibly know how big it is and how far it reaches. Heck, they don?t even know how much land they own.

     Now, don?t you just want to jump in and get involved with that mess after a long day?s work? Of course you don?t. Somehow, I don?t think ?immeasurably large? is the perfect size for a democracy dependent on the involvement of normal people. Luckily for the republic, there are a great many extraordinary Americans who are willing to do just that. They start their own blogs, write letters to the editor, and stage demonstrations, all in between the afternoon traffic jam and putting the kids to bed.

     But it was never meant to be this hard. The Constitution granted the federal government a very few ?enumerated? powers. All the others were to go to our state and local governments, which would be more responsive and accessible to close-by constituents. Since then, of course, the idea of ?enumerated,? has been court-packed, New Dealed and Great Societied into something closer to ?unlimited.?   

     As a result of the federal government?s sheer size, last year it misplaced $25 billion (that?s right, billion). I?m talking flat-out, gone-with-the-wind disappearance?of 25 BILLION dollars. That?s roughly $89 per citizen of the United States, and put together, more money than most of us will ever see.

     Yet there are still people who think shrinking the federal government is some kind of radical idea. In fact, the squealing starts in Washington if you even talk about slowing government?s growth. But to claim that the federal government can?t be any smaller is to claim that a $2.5 trillion budget is just pitch-perfect. That not one cent of that money can be cut away, no fat trimmed, no carbs removed.

     To say that the federal government can?t lose an inch is to say that 342 separate economic development programs is the exact right number; that 72 federal programs is precisely appropriate to ensure the safety of drinking water?no fewer of these programs will do.

     At Townhall.com, one of our principles is that the balance of power between people and governments should be heavily tilted in favor of the people. Between conservative weirdos like us in D.C. and the dedicated normal folks around the nation, I think we can start shifting that balance.

     And years from now, when my normal friend?s baby girl grows up to have her own normal children, maybe being normal and being involved at the same time won?t be so hard. Maybe by then, we?ll have made this government ?of the people, by the people, and for the people? back into a government better suited for people outside of the beltway.

Mary Katharine Ham is Senior Writer & Associate Editor at Townhall.com