Bret, thanks for trying to summarize differences. That can be helpful in creating more understanding.
Let me clarify my statement: I don't understand why Howie supports the Bush administration since Howie is a professed libertarian but I don't see the administration acting in a libertarian manner -- with the possible exception of cutting taxes (but I don't even give it much credit on this front since the tax-cutting was done in what I would consider to be a politically cowardly manner, i.e., without the pain of cutting expenses).
You're right, also, that we disagree on the morality of government (or even whether government can act morally). While I agree that the economy is not moral, and any attempt to make it moral tends to undermine it, I feel very differently about government. In fact, I would go so far as to say that government exists almost solely for the purpose of providing justice and security (which, if these are not moral issues, then I don't know what is). This is not to say that the federal government is the best mechanism to undertake action on many justice and security challenges. I think we all agree that lower levels of government are better mechanisms for handling most issues of justice and security because it is easier for local people to hold them more accountable. Even much economic security can be taken into account locally as communities decide on investments in infrastructure, schooling, investment incentives for business, etc.
By the way, when I use the term "justice," I don't interpret it as equality of outcomes for all. But, it does include defense against agglomerations of power which work to the detriment of the larger community. Because, as we all seemed to agree, "absolute power corrupts absolutely." Unfortunately, we have a bit of a problem in this regard, because there is no comprehensive practical check on the power of the federal government itself. Sure, the courts provide some check, but it is insufficient even on issues of law, and nearly invisible on issues of spending and taxation. I'd theorize that this problem is why Bret considers the government amoral (or, probably, immoral).
So, how do we check this overwhelming federal power (and corruption)? Well, if we believe that government is immoral, and I'll grant you that the federal version tends to act that way because of all the power it has, then I'm guessing we won't be able to check it, which, as so many other great powers throughout history have shown, will eventually lead us into crisis and decline. A real optimist might think that voters can force change before this would happen, but I doubt it. The actions of voters tend to be incremental. I know that you are an incrementalist, Bret, so you might like this. But, I don't think that the power of voters on their own will ever be enough to precipitate the structural changes we'll need to undo the corrupting power of the federal government.
So, what then? Am I an irredeemable pessimist? Although I think the odds against success are high, change of the type we need -- prior to a crisis -- can only be achieved by a great leader who captures the imagination of voters. This leader must be moral beyond reproach -- otherwise the existing system will insinuate its corrupting influence on him/her.
Unfortunately, our current federal government goes far, far beyond providing justice and security on issues of necessarily national -- rather than local -- interest. Of course, it's worth debating what would fall into those categories. Our previous exercise to name the things government should or shouldn't do was along those lines.
I don't think that Bret and Howie differ tremendously from me in their underlying philosophies. The main difference I sense is that Howie seems relatively satisfied with the status quo (so long as taxes are low); Bret is maybe a little less satisfied with the status quo, but puts his faith in incrementalist changes; whereas I am fairly dissatisfied with the status quo and think that leader-driven change is imperative. Further, I think that Bush is mostly leading us the wrong way -- agglomerating power in a big way, and, Kerry, at best, would slow the headlong rush toward out-of-control government (though I'm sure he would introduce some new follies of his own).
I don't know how to precipitate from our population the kind of leader we need. But, I will forever try to foment the need for finding such a leader and to refine my ideas, at least, about the changes that are needed and the characteristics of the leader who must make them. It will take a morally powerful person to devolve institutional power to the local level.