The Radical Incrementalist

Award-winning journalist Jonathan Rauch on the need for--and impossibility of--reducing the size and scope of government.

(Page 3 of 9)

Rauch: That's a two-part question and the two parts are actually, in my mind, very different things. I was speaking more now of politics rather than government. Despite the polarization of the political parties, most of what government does stays the same from year to year and it's not a question of reining it in. It's a question of changing it all and that's [what I call] demosclerosis. That's a big, longstanding problem. That's our biggest, deepest problem and it's not going anywhere any time soon.

The problem I was discussing in the last couple of paragraphs is a problem of political representation and what happens when a system marginalizes centrist voters. That's when I think you get the policy overshoots. Sometimes big-time policy overshoots.

You could argue that the Iraq War and the way it was prosecuted, particularly the occupation, was a function of the fact that you had one party--actually one faction of one party, the hawkish faction of the Republican Party--in unchallenged control of the government for a period of four years. My guess is that we would've had both a somewhat more moderate and a somewhat more successful policy if both parties had had to buy in [to the war effort] and if we had had more centrist kind of policies from the start.

Politicians, particularly at the very pinnacles of power, are not always as-restraint is not always their strong point. Where restraint comes from is from someone else in the system tugging against them, reminding them of reality by saying, Here I am, I'm part of this, too. That's what we've lacked for four years.

reason: Let's talk about your politics. At various points, you've described yourself as libertarianish but not libertarian. A few years back in an essay for reason, you called yourself "a soft communitarian." How do identify yourself or characterize yourself politically and how does that guide or affect or influence or get in the way of your work?

Rauch: Well, it doesn't get in the way because I spend no time thinking about how I categorize myself politically. I don't even bother.

reason: Isn't that strange in your line of work? Most people in your position have a political identity which is not only fully articulated but is very central to who they are.

Rauch: Now, that's strange. Why would anyone want a political identity? I understand an ethnic identity, a cultural identity, a [sexual] identity, but why would anyone want a political identity?

reason: As the editor of political magazine--of a libertarian magazine--I have no fucking idea why anyone would want such a thing.

Rauch: I hope that was on the record. Put that in there. I'm completely mystified by the mindset that judges one's moral character in life by how well you fit in some political party or other. It makes no sense to me at all.

reason: Many people would say that it is part of a cultural identity--of being on a certain team, or being a certain type of person.

Rauch: I think that's right. There is the team aspect and there is also the member of the club aspect.

reason: Do you vote?

Rauch: Oh, yeah.

reason: Do you vote Democratic or Republican? Do you vote on candidate-by-candidate basis or something like that?

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