Cocoa Beach, Florida. -- "Down with big government!"
That's a theme I've heard in six cities in the last fortnight -- especially in the national debate over health-care reform.
Most Americans seem obliged to say they want less government -- the same way they pretend they want less sex in their movies and TV shows. Ronald Reagan won eight years in the White House with promises to "get government off the backs of the people." When he left office, the government was all over the entire anatomy of the people.
Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., is trying to win the presidency by opposing most plans for health-care reform on grounds that they would make government bigger and require more taxes.
Just who it is that wants "big government?" I looked at the front pages of a few newspapers and concluded: almost everyone!
Surely not businessmen?
Oh yes! They had counted on the federal government to rein in the Microsoft Corporation and prevent it from smothering competition in the production and sale of software for personal computers. At times businessmen love big government.
Well, not Republican governors?
But weren't Republican governors signing a letter to Senator Dole opposing the GOP health-care plan because it would limit federal spending for Medicaid? And wasn't that the Republican governor of South Carolina, Carroll A. Campbell, urging Congress to pass some kind of health-care bill this year?
Where are all these people who supposedly hate big government when the cry goes up to "do something about crime?" They want billions more federal dollars for prisons, street cops and the gas and electricity to execute Americans for 60 more federal crimes. Big government is asked for anti-crime measures local governments cannot or will not pay for.
And how many people in any state hit by a hurricane, tornado or flood have ever said, "Don't declare us a federal disaster area. We deplore big government!"?
There is hardly a college in America that does not count on federal grants for students, research and more to keep it in business. And millions of students count on Pell grants and other government help to get them through college.
We have become dependent on "big government" to tell us whether our chickens and hamburger meat are safe to eat, or whether pill X will cure us or kill us. Sunday, a tiny wing of big government, the National Center for Health Statistics, was playing national nanny, telling us that more of us are obese and need to exercise and count calories.
I cannot think of a single American who does not benefit in a major way from "big government," whether it is doctors, hospitals or others in the health field. The hypocritical game is to pick Uncle Sam's pocket while screaming that he is getting too big for his britches.
There are vital areas where we ought to try to limit the intrusion of government into our lives. For example, the invasion of privacy and the trampling of the Bill of Rights. Sadly, some Americans will accept a federal ID card while arguing against a federal role in assuring universal health care.
Surer than taxes is the reality that government is not going to become smaller or less involved in our lives. So we must welcome those intrusions that better the lives of everyone.
Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.