The recently ended government shutdown is being framed as a conflict between large government (liberal) and small government (conservative) proponents.
Framing the problem this way is a smoke screen; in fact, both sides are big government advocates. The real conflict is over who gets big government largess. Generally, liberals want government money to secure a safety net for low income people; conservatives want government money to flow to the wealthy.
Some examples are in order.
• Congress recently cut food stamps by $40 billion. At the same time they increased subsidies to large wealthy farmers. Right-wing media hailed the food stamp cuts; nothing was said about the increased farm subsidies.
• Conservatives routinely support increases in military spending. Much of the military budget goes to contractors and suppliers who make huge profits off government contracts. The U.S. military is the world’s largest by far. Those who push to make it even larger can hardly claim to be small government folks. Campaign contributions by military suppliers ensure that military spending remains an essential conduit of government money to wealthy people. Halliburton made a profit of $13 billion off the Iraq war. That’s a lot of food stamps.
• Conservative politicians at the state and local levels are always trying to limit spending on public education. At the same time they funnel public education funds to charter and private schools. Public schools are designed to serve all children, poor and rich alike. Private schools generally serve the children of wealthier people.
Framing the left/right conflict in terms other than who gets the money — big/small government, abortion/anti-abortion, personal freedom/big government oppression, etc. — obscures what’s really going on.