Recently, in yet another example of the reforming zeal that swept Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger into office, California’s Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair was merged with the Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation to create a new streamlined, more efficient bureau called — wait for it, stand well back — the Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation.
Why not the Bureau of Electronic and Appliance Repair, Home Furnishings, Lingerie, and Gift Wrap? I used to be able to whistle the main themes from the Hungarian Communist-era smash hit The State Department Store (a proletarian operetta, with none of the counts and princesses), but really The State Department Store Regulatory Agency is an even better jest. A Californian reader of mine, standing slack-jawed before the “Permit to Sell Bedding” hanging at the back of his local Wal-Mart, channeled a bit of (misattributed) George Orwell: We sleep soundly in our beds at night because rough bureaucrats from the Bureau of Home Furnishings stand ready to do violence to those who would sell us unlicensed pillowcases. “The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation,” Pierre Trudeau famously told Canadians, but evidently it does if you’re consummating your same-sex marriage on an unregulated counterpane.
There is a deal of ruin in a nation, but by the time you’ve got a Bureau of Home Furnishings you’re getting awful near the limit. Of all the petty regulatory burdens piled upon the citizen in the Age of Micro-Tyranny, I dislike especially the food-handling licensing requirements in an ever-multiplying number of jurisdictions from Virginia to Oregon that have put an end to such quintessentially American institutions as the bake sale and the lemonade stand. So civic participation withers, and a government monopoly not just of power but of basic social legitimacy is all that remains.
Yet, even as they approach the moment of triumph, there is great peril here for the Democrats. I believe it was Rich Lowry who first noted that, unlike the culture wars of the early Nineties over “God, guns, and gays,” this time round conservatives have succeeded in making big government itself a cultural issue. Yet it goes beyond that. Every day, more and more people understand that there’s not enough money to pay for this stuff, and there never will be — in other words, that the entire shtick is a fraud. That’s an ever tougher sell for Democrats, particularly now that, in the cold gray light of the long morning after, “hope” and “change” are revealed to be merely an abbreviation for a vast overstaffed Bureau of Hope and Change, whose Assistant Directors of Change and Deputy Commissioners of Hope are on a quarter-million per annum and contemplating retirement at 55 from their three-year study group to examine whether we need a new Hope Application Form and Change Permit.