But I think that critiques that focus on the government’s size miss an important factor. This isn’t just a problem of bigness or smallness. It’s a problem of power.

When public servants have the power to make life difficult for narrowly defined groups of people—their political enemies, or disfavored causes, or people on the wrong side of a national discussion—they’ll end up using, and abusing, that power. It’s all but inevitable, whatever the reason. Sometimes they’ll do it because they’re out to punish their foes. Sometimes because they honestly believe it’s the fairest and most reasonable way to do their jobs. Sometimes because they’re mean and petty people. Sometimes because they think they’re making the nation a better place for all. Sometimes because they’re instructed to do so from on high. Sometimes because they’re not given enough instruction. Sometimes because they’re just plain incompetent.

It’s not that the reasons don’t matter at all. They do. But in some ways the particular reasons miss the larger point. Power will find a reason. It always does.