E.J. Dionne's column (here in the Houston Chronicle
, but sadly given wide distribution) is a straw man arguing past his opponent. Dionne's basic assertion is that government taxes us in order to preserve our basic rights, and that people who argue we're overtaxed forget this - just look at the looting in Baghdad.
First of all, conservatives have always argued that maintaining law and order is one of the few, most elemental roles of government. So much for Baghdad-on-the-Potomac. We don't want that, either.
A little more serious, but not much, is his claim that high taxes preserve property rights. Now, how a confiscatory government can respect anyone's property rights is beyond me. But the claim is more subtle than that: by redistributing wealth, we're preserving an order that disproportionately benefits the wealthy, therefore, the wealthy should be happy to fork over, say 50 or 60% of their money to the government that protects them. And here is a fundamental difference between conservatives and liberals. Liberals see the pie as fixed, people's place in it also fixed. Maybe you can improve your lot, but probably not. So the only way to keep this static society from imploding, and the masses from rebelling, is to buy them off with ever-increasing amounts of Soma, or whatever.
Conservatives see a much different picture. We see a society where improvement is possible, not easily, but definitely possible, and for the majority of people. We see a fluid society where the wealthy can fall, and the poor can rise. And the opportunity to rise is what gives real hope, faith in the system, and therefore stability. Hope doesn't come from expecting that this week's Government Basket of Goodies will be larger than last week's. It comes from the expectation that you have control over your own destiny, something reistribution does nothing to promote. So conservatives are in favor of whatever increases that opportunity.
Dionne's too clever by half. By conflating basic government services, like making sure your TV is there when you get home, with extras like midnight basketball, he tries to make the case for virtually any activity the government chooses to fund. But it doesn't work. Because protecting my freedom means increasing my choices, not making them for me.