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On Cable News and Big Government

It seems that no matter who is in charge–Democrats, Republicans, Conservatives, Liberals–the size and reach of the national government has continued to expand. Some people think this is fine, while others find it problematic or even an affront to the Constitution. For the sake of this post, I’m not going to worry about whether or not that is a good thing, and focus instead on one theory to help explain the “why.” Of course we could talk all day about personal, selfish reasons for this expansion as people in power wish to expand that power. But my theory gets to the public as a whole, and why people would allow and even clamor for the expansion of national government, even when cursing the trend out of the other side of their mouths. The answer? Cable News.

I remember the moment when this occurred to me. I was watching Fox News and there was some mild outrage (isn’t there always) about something that was being done by a local school system in Montana. It was something to do with sex education for extremely young children. As I watched, I began to consider where I stood on the issue. How do I feel about kindergarteners in Montana starting to learn about sex organs and second graders in Montana starting to learn about different types of family structures? And it occurred to me that not only don’t I care, but I shouldn’t care.

The key words here are “in Montana.” Education has always been somewhat of a bastion local government. In fact, the school district in question is not even a state level, but a single municipality within that state. Thirty years ago, I couldn’t imagine that the sex education program of a single Montana municipality would make national headlines. It certainly would not have appeared on the nightly local news shows around the rest of the country.

But local forms of news are slowly being pushed aside. Nightly news ratings have fallen; newspaper circulations have dropped. People are getting their news from more universal sources: cable news and the internet. In this setting, every story is a national story, and thus every problem requires a national solution. If you were upset about Vermont legalizing same-sex marriage, you stood up to support the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Local issue: federal solution.

I’m using conservative examples here not because this trend is only true of Fox News and of conservative people, but because it is conservatives who vehemently demand smaller government. And yet, with each passing fire set by Fox News over a local issue, even conservatives begin to seek national water to douse the flames. Some states are legalizing gay marriage? Many conservatives want a Constitutional Amendment to stop it. And the scope and the range and the power of the government grows.

Cable news is by no means the only reason that the national government continues to expand. Of course increased spending due to entitlement programs plays a part. Of course the egos and the desire for power among lawmakers and/or presidents play a part. Of course the national security situation and the expanded powers of the executive play a part. Of course lobbying plays a part. But as long as we are getting our news from national sources, rather than local, the logical next step will  be to seek national solutions.

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