In a fine article at Evangelical Outpost Joe Carter cites the Texas cheerleader "booty shaking" legislation to make the point that conservatism isn't really so much about small government as it is about healing sick societies. The heart of his post is this passage:
His analysis of what it is conservatives seek to accomplish is interesting. It's true that, as a general rule, bloated governments are symptomatic of a sick society. Consider for example the great harm done to the poor in this country by addicting them to the vast welfare state that subsidized and perpetuated all manner of social dysfunction from the sixties to the nineties. It doesn't follow, however, that there should never be instances, e.g. disaster relief, conservation of historical sites or biologically significant lands, or homeland security, when government takes on a larger role in society. Nevertheless, it requires great care and discernment to assess where and in which way government should be granted power to grow and act, and the way is fraught with many perils.
Carter suggests that it may perhaps be counterproductive for conservatives to argue adamantly that government should be kept as small and unintrusive as it can be, consistent with its role in national defense. After all, conservatives want the government to be intrusive when it's a matter of regulating pornography or sleazy television programming. By what principle do we call on government to protect us from the assaults of the concupiscent juveniles who write television scripts but insist that government stay out of other areas of our lives?
So the question, especially in light of President Bush's exercise of "compassionate conservatism" and his indulgence of deficit spending, is whether conservatives should rethink their traditional view of government. Mr. Bush has certainly given us occasion to begin that reassessment.
The fear that people like me have in saying all this, though, is that once we allow our ideological tether to slacken we risk losing the security and consistency afforded by a well-anchored set of guiding principles. Even worse, we risk, heaven forbid, becoming moderates.