Michael Gerson: Government's heavy hand

BY MICHAEL GERSON Published: May 18, 2013

Over the years, Obama's overreach has consistently undermined his rhetorical case. Much of his lavish stimulus package seemed funneled toward favored interests — less the building of ladders than the digging and refilling of holes. Obamacare involves a massive expansion of federal power and the proliferation of mandates, boards and rules. These have hardly been creative or subtle uses of government to empower individuals.

Now comes the added blow of scandal. In each recent case, government used power in ways that were insular, highly politicized and intimidating. And however individual responsibility is eventually assigned, these attributes are not aberrations in the Obama era. The administration tends to view its actions as above scrutiny and its opponents as beneath contempt.

The result is a paradox. As the ambitions of government in the Obama era have expanded, respect for the institution of government has reached new lows. These scandals add another layer of cynicism. And the practical political effects are very real. Who is more likely this month than last to trust the federal government with the implementation of Obamacare (in part by the IRS), the enforcement of new gun-control laws or the securing of the Southern border?

Republicans are capable of overreaching in strategy and philosophy — making every disagreement into an article of impeachment and conveying a disdain for government itself. Perhaps this is what Obama hopes will happen if he baits the GOP. But this would not solve the nation's problem. We need a federal government that is limited, respected and effective within its proper bounds. None can call this the Obama legacy.

WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP