No Principled Advocates of Small Government in An Oil Spill

Dana Milbank takes a look at what happens when a giant man-made disaster threatens a region of the country largely governed by advocates of small government who take a skeptical view of federal power:

About an hour later came word from the Pentagon that Alabama, Florida and Mississippi — all three governed by men who once considered themselves limited-government conservatives — want the federal government to mobilize (at taxpayer expense, of course) more National Guard troops to aid in the cleanup.

That followed an earlier request by the small-government governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal (R), who issued a statement saying he had called the Obama administration “to outline the state’s needs” and to ask “for additional resources.” Said Jindal: “These resources are critical.”

About the time that Alabama, Florida and Mississippi were asking for more federal help, three small-government Republican senators, Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions of Alabama and George LeMieux of Florida, were flying over the gulf on a U.S. government aircraft with small-government Republican Rep. Jeff Miller (Fla.).

He follows up with an excellent quote from Sessions who says “We’re here to send the message that we’re going to do everything we can from a federal level to mitigate this” forgetting all about his once-beloved 10th Amendment principles.


At any rate, this kind of hypocrisy barely even rises to the level of hypocrisy. It’s an interesting sociological fact about members of the conservative movement in America that they like to talk about “small government” and/or “freedom” or “liberty” but there’s no reason to believe that in an operational sense the conservative movement is aiming at any of these things. Consequently, I think Milbank ends up going a bit astray later in the piece when he writes that “as conservatives in Washington complain about excessive federal spending, the ones who would suffer the most from spending cuts are their own constituents.” It’s true that conservative politicians tend to represent relatively poor states that disproportionately benefit from federal spending. But it’s people who vote, not states. And poor people in poor states don’t vote for Republicans and thus Sessions and Vitter have no particular concern with their interests. But an oil spill threatens people irrespective of class, so countermeasures have conservative fans.