I am going to keep this short and sweet.
Talking to my folks this weekend, we discussed Mayor Bloomberg's ban on big sodas, and my father framed it as "a loss of our liberties." I also know that he and my mother are vehemently in favor of criminalizing abortion, keeping marijuana illegal, and preventing gay people from getting married. However, they would think of themselves as "small government conservatives." I also know of people on the left who are fine with a robust social safety net, but who also want to see an end to the war on drugs and restrictions on marriage. What motivates both of these groups is not a belief in "big government" versus "small government," since they both want government in certain places and out of others. Their differences boil down to broader philosophical divergences, such as the role of society in legislating morality and the extent to which capitalism needs to be restrained. These things are the real issues in American political life today, and we could have a much more mature debate about them if we dropped the "small government vs. big government" cant from our discourse.