From Today's Washington Post:
Big Government Looks Better Now
By Charles E. Schumer
Tuesday, December 11, 2001; Page A33
The recent disputes in Congress over airline security and stimulating the economy, like so many other arguments in Washington, revolve around a fundamental question: How big should the federal government be? Since the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, those who believe the federal government should shrink have had the upper hand. Sept. 11 changed all that. For the foreseeable future, the federal government will have to grow. The next few years will more closely resemble the mid-1930s, when federal power dramatically increased; but this new deal will involve an overarching federal effort to bring physical, not economic, security to our people.
Sept. 11 awakened us to the reality that technology has enabled a small group of diabolical people living halfway around the globe to make large parts of our society vulnerable to attack. For the first time, we are engaged in a war in which more Americans are likely to die on the home front than on the battlefield. As a result, we are at the beginning of a process of recalibration, where preparation for physical security will take a great deal more of our time and resources at both a personal and societal level.
Our society will have to examine the vulnerable pressure points in our country -- air travel, nuclear power plants, public health systems, power and computer grids, border crossings -- and work to protect each from terrorist attack. The list of vulnerable areas will grow as technology evolves and continues to allow small groups of terrorists to threaten large parts of our society. Only one entity has the breadth, strength and resources to lead this recalibration and pay for its costs -- the federal government.
To ask each town and village to guard all the power lines, gas lines and aqueducts is too much; to ask large private-sector companies such as airlines and food processors to be wholly responsible for the security of their products is also too much. It is not just that Washington is the only entity with the ability to raise the resources our new situation requires; the notion of letting a thousand different ideas compete and flourish -- which works so well to create goods and services -- does not work at all in the face of a national security emergency. Unity of action and purpose is required, and only the federal government can provide it.
The era of a shrinking federal government has come to a close. From 1912 to 1980, the federal government grew with little interruption. The modern conservative movement, beginning with Barry Goldwater in 1964 and attaining power with Ronald Reagan's victory in 1980, argued that Washington had grown too large, too inefficient and too out of touch. Even liberals had to admit there was some truth to this argument. For the next two decades, the federal government stopped growing, and by some measures even shrank, with Bill Clinton doing more of the shrinking than any other president. But our new situation has dramatically reversed that trend. Within a few years, those like Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, who believe that any time the federal government moves, its fingers should be chopped off, will be fighting an increasingly desperate rear guard action.