David Brooks on the op-ed page of the New York Times examines the meaning--both electoral and philosophic--of the passage of the Medicare prescription drug bill. The good news is that the GOP is learning how to govern; it is in the habit of winning and is on a permanent offense. That bad news is that "We have plenty of Republicans in Congress, but few who actually belive in smaller government." The Club for Growth folks, among others, agree with this and are not amused. They are saying that the GOP is betraying its principles.
Ken Masugi has a few good thoughts on this, and I generally agree with them. All of this, of course, also has to do with "realignment" issues. The short of it is this: Do we trust the GOP to be in principle in favor of smaller government? And if we do--and keep in mind that in exchange for massive new spending, the law demands competitive reforms (hence the anger of Sen. Kennedy)--than all we have to do is to decide whether or not the passage of this law (and perhaps increased spending in other realms, for example, education) is a prudent decision made out of necessity, or whether it is made because the principle is given up. I think it is necessity. While the GOP’s (and the think tanks, and writers, et al) philosophical attack on the expansion of the welfare state has been very impressive for over a generation, the political effects of that attack have not yet been as effective as many of us think it should be; in short we have not yet shaped public opinion to question the expansion of the centralized welfare state root and branch. FDR and the others understood that it would be very difficult to end a program that everyone finds in his interest, unjust (and/or unconstitutional) though it may be. Yet, keep in mind Masugi’s point that the progressive referendum and the recall(who would have thought?) have been used for conservative ends. That’s why liberals can say with anger (as Sen. Kennedy did) that there is too much democracy in California. And I agree. Yet, the use of that direct democracy for conservative ends is a good thing and should--over time--force a movement back toward legislative responsibility and more limited constitutional government. A similar form of reasoning applies at the federal level. We need not betray our principles by doing what has been done on the prescription drug bill. We do have to make sure that we know the difference between necessity and principle, though. And let us come back to fight that on another day, as the competitive reforms in the bill should allow us to do. As Masugi says, let’s recognize the difference between a tactic and a long term strategy. Now let’s get to work on some other critical issues like abortion, gay marriage, etc.