A useful way to think about the scope of government is to ask what would happen if a particular government power were exercised by someone with whom you disagree.
Arnold’s point is simple but profound. How often do we hear “Progressives” complain that the record of this government program or the performance of that government agency would have been wonderful were it not for the fact that the program or agency in question was run by Republicans or by appointees otherwise not sufficiently committed to the “Progressive” vision or adequately experienced to do the job ‘right’? How frequently do we encounter complaints that politics prevented the proper functioning of some government enterprise or endeavor?
Anyone who issues such complaints reveals his or her romantic and fantastical notions of the state. The state is imagined by such a person to be not just an organization that it is not, but an organization that it cannot possibly ever be. Such a dreamer apparently believes in miracles. It is inexcusably naive to think that “reform” or “cleaner elections” or this or that shiny new silver-tongued orator vying for political office can remove the practical certainty that the agency set up to do X will often be run by people not committed to X – or who, regardless of what the politicians or administrators currently in charge think of X, find ways to appear to pursue X while really pursuing Y.
More generally, to ask that governmental organizations be cleansed of politics is akin to asking, as Russ memorably puts it, for a kosher ham sandwich.