"Yeah well, [conservatives] been delusional since at least [Reagan's presidency]. I still can't figure out why they think Reagan was so amazing, other than the fact that he won the election and he was a Republican. His policies were [bad] - his "Trickle Down" theory has been [completely] unsuccessful but the campaign [they're] running now is exactly the same as then - "Let the Job Creators keep more money and it will all trickle down". Yeah, trickle down right into their offshore accounts. Trickling golden bathtubs. Trickling Ponzi schemes."
To be completely honest, I've never been entirely sold on the Reagan hype myself. His message while campaigning may have been "sound conservatism", but his actual policies were a fairly mixed bag (at least by my own essentially laissez-faire standards), as detailed here*. In fact Reagan's policies, as a mixed bag and considering they did little to nothing to dismantle the structure of the federal welfare program-driven bureaucracy, in fact have not provided any sort of testing ground to prove or disprove the theory he campaigned on. As far as I can tell, the last president under which the United States had something resembling the ideal currently promulgated of a free market economy was Calvin Coolidge. And his record shows that it is – or was, at least – possible to lower taxes and the debt, and the way to do that was cutting Federal spending.
The liberals' theory – try to raise taxes, and then raise spending whether or not taxes are raised, and ignore the deficit question almost completely even in the face of Greece (and Spain, and Italy, and Ireland) spiraling into an economic disaster driven by an exaggerated version of these same policies and only slightly mitigated by essentially unwilling action by foreign powers trying to find the least worst of multiple bad choices – completely fails to make any sense, let alone answer these serious concerns. The most reasonable thing they have to say is that maybe we need to raise taxes to cut the deficit, which at least is a rational and sensible conclusion. (Whether it works or not at this point is anyone's guess.)
I admit we're talking about a different scale here than we were ninety years ago. I would hazard a guess that our various governments did not, back then, employ one sixth of the population. And so trying to draw down that much of an investment – to redirect it to private enterprise and freedom where I think, with most conservatives, that it belongs – will call for more concerted effort and more forethought. That doesn't make it impossible, or change the fact that it ought to be done.
The fundamental problem with leftist policy is that it diminishes the number of people available to actually accomplish things. Someone starts a company and hires three people: great. Add another government program to supplement or subsidize or replace him, and you get four people working and have to find a fifth to supervise a new department, meaning he's not doing something actually useful any more. Subsidize, replace, or regulate an area of private enterprise, and you get more bureaucrats. Back in 1998, the IRS – one agency, and arguably one of the at least marginally useful ones, since somebody has to collect taxes – employed over one hundred thousand people. While those numbers were declining at the time – and notice that they declined with the ascendancy of the Republican party in Congress (although they had risen during Bush Sr.'s presidency, to be fair) – I doubt it has shrunk much more over the last dozen years. Okay, so that's not that many people, relatively speaking: 0.03% of the population, more or less. But it would be a pretty large corporation, and it's only one agency. (Not sure where the rest of the one sixth come from.) For comparison, if we take that 100,000 number as accurate, it's about one-fifteenth of the size of the US military. Which means... at this point I have no idea, actually. I'm just throwing around numbers and trying to make sense of them, and failing. Which is sort of a point in and of itself: granted I'm not a trained economist or politician, but I have approximately no idea what the US Federal government's current existence actually means in economic or day-to-day fact, or even really what it is. If for no other reason, I want a smaller government so that I can understand the thing. It's my job as a voter to understand what I'm voting for, and at this point that's an impossibility on any but the vaguest terms.
This is what we're looking at: unfathomable numbers of government wonks trying to keep track of policies and see them enforced. There's part of just war theory, dating at least to Aquinas, that says one of the reasons for going to war appropriately is, in all but the most dire cases, possibility of success. The leftist regulatory and bureaucratic state does not have a "possibility of success", even if we grant that its aims are valid.
Obviously there's a role for lawyers, just like there's a role for soldiers. There's even a need for tax collectors, police, and firemen. But these things are due to unfortunate facts of life, and the necessity means they do not exist as inherently good things. I would like to live in a world where police are unnecessary. The left largely wants to limit the size of the military for these reasons. (Then again, so do many on the right, these days, even if they don't have pride of place on the big-party stage.) The right also wants to limit the size of the bureaucracy, for similar reasons – and are resisted in the name of I'm not even sure what any more.
It's clearly not getting the job done. Social Security is spiraling out of control: no reforms are allowed. Medicare and Medicaid are precarious: ditto. Government agencies keep getting in the way and failing: public schools fall behind the rest of the world and people scrape and save to homeschool or send kids to private schools for the sake of a better education; the public school system demands more money, better salaries, and more compliance with the unions. The EPA passes regulations or doesn't pass regulations, and nobody understands why. A company builds a new plant to hire more people while expanding an existing plant, and union leftists threaten strikes and political leftists support them. And of course there's that 2000 page boondoggle of a medical bill that some clowns passed and nobody understands, even now going into effect, if we knew what the effect was. Then there are the ongoing assaults against religious liberty in the name of "nondiscrimination" (and "liberty" to kill infants), and so on and so forth. It makes no sense.
The leftist expansion of government has brought us a government that thinks it can do anything, and is proceeding to do it, regardless of the fact that half the population disagrees with its favored policies. Democracy? Heh. And the people benefitting, for the most part, are the politicians and their lawyer and union friends – not the people stuck on welfare because business owners can't afford to meet the regulations to hire more people because demand isn't growing because people are stuck on welfare because wait I was already here wasn't I.
Bureaucrats and lawyers are necessary, but they're maintenance people, not architects and builders. They're the people leftist policy pays: this leads me to conclude that leftism is not interested in growth but in maintenance.** But maintenance depends on having something to maintain. At some point, a plumber and a cleaner and a painter step back from a building, and say, "We need a builder to come in and fix this wing." When they find out there are no builders left (because the building code is now three thousand pages long), as the Soviet Union did, the thing falls apart.
Leftist policy will eventually lead to collapse under its own pressure, as in the Soviet Union or Greece, or to draconian measures which please nobody but sort of manage to keep things together, as in modern China – at least until the tyranny falls apart because of its own failings as a system of government, as the Roman Empire did.
* In matters of historical record, I tend to view wikipedia as an acceptable resource, for the following reasons: first, reputation; second, a habit of allowing and actually encouraging an in fact over-critical attitude to anything remotely questionable; and finally, the insistence on citing everything. Also, for internet discussion, it is a highly accessible source. At the same time, it must be allowed that the overall attitude of wikipedia's interpretation of facts (like that of much of the rest of "the internet") is fairly left-wing.
** Oddly enough, this is born out by several correlating data points, among which are: shrinking birth rates in more thoroughly leftist countries; the alliance of hyperenvironmentalists and generally unsavory people like "Dr." Singer with leftist causes; an apparently general leftist antipathy towards large families; support for abortion (even apart from the ethical question which renders the practice obviously evil).