President Obama hosted a reception at the White House yesterday for the National Governors Association, and he spent a fair amount of time at the event, delivering some remarks but also engaging in some Q&A with attendees. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) brought up the idea of "regulatory reform" and the possibility of the White House working with governors on a "regulatory review" process.
The president said he would, but he also spent some time talking about misplaced assumptions about his policy agenda. After noting the extensive work his administration has already done in getting rid of wasteful regulations and unnecessary government paperwork, Obama reflected on his ideology -- or in this case, the lack of an ideology.
"I do not believe in regulation for regulation's sake -- contrary to rumor. This idea that somehow I get a kick out of big government is just not the case. The truth of the matter is, if something is working without us being involved, we've got more than enough to do without getting involved in it. We really do. It's not like I'm waking up every morning thinking, 'How can I add more work for me?' I don't think that way."
As part of the same answer, the president added, "Even on some of the big regulations you hear about that you don't like, they're not issued unless we think that the benefits substantially outweigh the costs. And we have the numbers to prove it. So for those of you who think that I'm just a big government, crazy liberal, we're actually -- we crunch some numbers around here. We take it very seriously."
I haven't seen any reactions to the president's remarks from congressional Republicans or the GOP presidential candidates, but I suspect they would scoff. They know in their bones, reality be damned, that the Obama White House has expanded economy-crushing regulations that strangle free enterprise and prevent robust growth.
And how did they arrive at this conclusion? Because Obama is a Democrat, and that's just what Democrats do.
And that reminds me of a story.
In 2010, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), long before he became Speaker of the House, gave a speech in which he condemned then-Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) for saying, "We are trying to increase the role of government on every front."
Except, that's not what Frank actually said. The Massachusetts Democrat was talking about regulating derivatives, not everything, and Ryan truncated the quote. More importantly, though, Paul Krugman noted at the time that Paul Ryan was guilty of "projection."
On the right, people are for smaller government as a matter of principle -- smaller government for its own sake. And so they naturally imagine that their opponents must be their mirror image, wanting bigger government as a goal in itself.But it's not true. I don't know any progressives who gloat over increases in the federal payroll or the government share of GDP. Progressives have things they want the government to do -- like guaranteeing health care. Size per se doesn't matter. But people on the right apparently can't get that.
And six years later, Obama is still trying to convince them, explaining that he does not "believe in regulation for regulation's sake."
Love him or hate him, Barack Obama is a pragmatic technocrat. He doesn't support a larger public sector just for the sake of having a larger public sector. He doesn't support more spending just for the sake of spending more. He doesn't support taxes for the sake of taxes. And he doesn't regulate just for the sake of regulating. All available evidence suggests the president is looking for ways to solve problems he believes deserve remedies.
Republicans don't believe this in part because they don't recognize the asymmetry -- they assume Dems see the world the same way they do, only in reverse. For the right, shrinking government is necessarily good. Why? Because it's shrinking government. But what makes that worthwhile? Because if government shrinks, it's, you know, smaller.
And by this same reasoning, Republicans believe Democrats must see increasing government as an inherent good. Except, they don't. It's just not how Obama, or the party in general, approach problem-solving.