The limits of limited government

THE LIMITS OF LIMITED GOVERNMENT…. Louisiana Sen. David Vitter (R) is a tough man to figure out. The far-right Republican seems to be a walking contradiction — he’s a “family-values” conservative who got caught with prostitutes. He’s a former Rhodes scholar who seems easily and frighteningly confused by almost every area of public policy. He’s a Louisiana senator seeking re-election who seems inclined to ignore the devastating oil spill unfolding in the waters near his state.

And he’s a champion of limited government who selectively ignores his guiding principle when it suits his purposes.

There is something exquisite about the moment when a conservative decides he needs more government in his life.

About 10:30 Monday morning, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), an ardent foe of big government, posted a blog item on his campaign Web site about the huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. “I strongly believe BP is spread too thin,” he wrote.

The poor dears. He thinks it would be a better arrangement if “federal and state officials” would do the dirty work of “protecting and cleaning up the coast” instead of BP.

If there’s any kind of wisdom here, it eludes me. BP’s oil rig is responsible for a potentially devastating oil spill, and the company was wrong when it insisted early on that this was a small, manageable problem. For a politician seeking re-election, the smart move would be to say the right thing: BP, this is your mess, and we’re going to hold you responsible.

But Vitter — the one who considers government inherently ineffective and incompetent — wants BP to do less and government officials to do more.

And while Vitter’s example is perhaps the most egregious, he’s not alone. Conservative red-state governors are demanding intervention, resources, and money from the federal government in response to the oil spill disaster.

If all of this strikes you as low-hanging fruit — tough talk about small government is easy until conservatives need big government — I agree with you. It’s the kind of routine hypocrisy and ideological inconsistency that occurs on a nearly daily basis.

It’s what made Matt Yglesias’ observation especially compelling: “It’s an interesting sociological fact about members of the conservative movement in America that they like to talk about ‘small government’ and/or ‘freedom’ or ‘liberty’ but there’s no reason to believe that in an operational sense the conservative movement is aiming at any of these things.”