A very instructive phrase — “that’s what I signed up for” — naturally leads to the question, when did Douthat sign up? Where? And with whom?
Douthat’s problem is that he feels the need to describe a hypothetical condition, conservative governance as an ideal finished product: Exactly this much of a social welfare state, and no more.
Politics doesn’t work that way. Politics is Newtonian, establishing an equilibrium between competing interests. Vis-a-vis the size-of-goverrnment question, you take your place on either side of the tug-of-war — the federal government is either too big or too small — and you start pulling the rope as hard as you can.
I stand resolutely on the side of those who say the federal government is too big, too powerful, too expensive. It doesn’t matter how small, weak or cheap I think the ideal government would be, since in living memory it has only grown, and grown, and grown. (One notices that progressive Democrats have never specified a final destination of “progress.”)
If ever any meaningful reductions were made in the size, authority and expense of the federal government, then conservatives could argue over whether the next proposed round of reductions might be going too far. Since everything is now going in exactly the opposite direction, Douthat’s hand-wringing over the ideal size of the social welfare state is moot. It’s too big now, and that’s all that matters in practical political terms — not that Douthat has anything useful to say about practical politics.