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Originally published with The New Americana.

What size are you?

It’s hard to answer that question if you’re not sure exactly what I’m referring to. I could be talking about height, weight, shoes, jeans, dresses, collars, rings, underwear, or cowboy hats. Context matters, and the word “size” is not one-size-fits-all.

With that in mind, what is the size of the government? I think we can all agree that the government is too big, but we need to specify what we mean by that — simply that the government has too much power in general, or that it has power over too many things? Both are troublesome, but I tend to place priority on the latter. So while many people complain that the government is too tall — that wherever it has jurisdiction it seizes excessive control, which I agree with — my primary health concern is that the government is too fat. This is why I adore the term “bloated government.” It imagines one that is too wide, spread too far over too many areas.

Issues of government height call for analysis, argumentation, and compromise. Defense, for instance, is a legitimate function of the federal government. But the appropriate amount of military spending, which wars to enter and when, and how many soldiers to enlist are all circumstantial. Standards of engagement must be decided case by case, and peacetime spending will certainly decrease, but by how much? There is no universal answer, so in that area, government height is subject to rational debate and vigilant scrutiny.

We should, however, know how to settle with relative ease whether the government should be involved in a particular field at all — this is government width. We babble ourselves breathless about cutting taxes and government spending, but not all revenue is created equal.

Why would we even consider slashing defense spending when the federal government has already proposed Social Security expenditures topping $1 trillion for fiscal year 2018, nearly one third of the government’s total estimated revenue of $3.654 trillion? Medicare and Medicaid account for an additional $986 billion of the FY2018 budget, meaning that these three welfare programs alone make up over 54% of projected spending. Before we can make the federal government any shorter, we have to trim the fat.

So when we say we need to cut spending, that doesn’t mean “reduce spending in all those areas in which we’re currently spending.” It means “cut out entirely those areas in which the federal government has no business spending.” And if we can cut out almost $2 trillion on just those three unconstitutional social programs, imagine what that will do for your tax rate.

Suppressing bloated government (federal or state) and securing power to those to whom it rightfully belongs is the essence of federalism. Reserving certain powers to the states doesn’t magically grant states the authority to violate our unalienable rights, as I’ve discussed previously, but matters of health, education, and welfare (among others) cannot be handled at a federal level for a bevy of reasons: 1) The federal government stinks at it. 2) We must respect the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law. 3) Local authority is much easier to restrain.

This is the beauty and genius of our separate but equal system of government: the judicial, legislative, and executive branches keep each other in check both federally and locally; federal and state governments maintain balance between themselves; and the people place checks on all of the above. Somehow we always forget about the second — there must be balance between federal and state powers. Historically, when one has been so powerful that the other could not bridle it, we’ve ended up with the Civil War, Japanese internment camps, and a crippling welfare state. Extremism on both sides is detrimental to the foundation of our republic.

The United States of America has endured progressive politics for over 100 years from both Republicans like Teddy Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover, as well as Democrats like Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson. Party tribalism is not and has never been the answer. Devotion to principles — particularly those on which this country was built — are the only hope we have of recovery.

The government is too big, and astonishingly few people (including elected officials) understand its purpose. The federal government especially has too many feet in too many doors, and it has too much power wherever it’s standing. We must shrink the overall size of government, but let’s take it one step at a time. It will be much easier to solve the government’s height problem once we make it a little thinner.