Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Era of Small Government is Over

I watched some of last night’s debate, and agree that Cheney outperformed his opponent. But something kept bothering me about the whole event, and I suspect it’s a foreshadowing of the nausea I’m likely to experience if I watch the second Bush-Kerry tussle. Much of the debate--at least the part about domestic policy--seemed to go something like this:


Gwen Ifill: As you know, X is a matter of concern for many Americans. How do you intend to approach this matter?


Cheney: The president and I are very much concerned with X, and we’ve spent Y billion dollars in dealing with it.


Edwards: This administration has been woefully negligent in handling X. John Kerry and I have a plan to spend 2Y billion dollars on it.

Over at the Washington Post (hat tip to Real Clear Politics), Anne Applebaum reminds us that it was only ten years ago--although it seems much longer--Newt Gingrich led the GOP in capturing the House, promising to reduce the size and scope of government and to rein in the massive federal budget. And, of course, it’s been even less time since Bill Clinton announced that the "era of Big Government" was over. Sure, it was rhetoric, but even that seems to be more than what we’re getting in this election year.

Of course, this isn’t leading me to support Kerry. Given the choice between spending Y and 2Y on domestic projects, I’ll go with Y every time. And Kerry’s attacks on the administration for running up the national debt are laughable, given how much he’s proposing to spend, while at the same time offering further tax cuts to the middle class (I wouldn’t hold my breath for those, incidentally). But it does seem to me that the Republican vision articulated so well by Ronald Reagan--that of government as the problem, rather than the solution--is well and truly dead.

Discussions - 7 Comments

John is on the mark with this one. Bush’s presidency has made several domestic enlargements of government in Medicare, public schools, etc., and yet people are still unsatisfied with the "inadequate" level of spending in the billions. Probably for that reason, I might have supported another Republican candidate for president. But, as John pointed out, it’s better than the alternative. The Republicans have, under Bush, stolen Democratic issues from under them, which might be popular, but arguably bad for America. If the Republicans have conceded to larger federal spending, we’re in trouble (especially if they want to cut our taxes at the same time they’re spending more). I preferred the silly argument over whether cutting the growth in the rate of spending was actually a cut.

The "smaller government" issue died a hard, unloved death when the Gengrich and the Republicans lost their budget standoff with Clinton, and went on to get creamed at the polls. Weep all you want, but it was the american people who killed Reagan’s dream.

The best we can hope for from the Republicans now is a sort of neo-whig "we’ll spend money like the democrats, only differently" position.

Actually, in a lot of ways these last ten years have felt like the democrat/whig battles in the 1840/50’s, both in the terms of the debate, and to a much greater extent in the rancor and vitriol of the debate.

Hopefully the modern-day Republicans will do better than their Whig predecessors.

First of all, the single most important constitutional directive of the federal government is protect it’s people. During wartime -- has everybody forgotten we are at war -- the size of government always grows both in size and importance.

Secondly, much of what Bush did, like the way No Child Left Behind was crafted, was an attempt to build a consenus with Democrats with his eye on an electoral victory of the size that would not create another Florida debacle right in the middle of this war. That would be absolutely disasterous, would it not? On this I think Bush will succeed beyond most pundits wildest dreams in November.

And finally, let us not forget that if Bush actually succeeds with privatizing even a small part of Social Security, that will dwarf anything that Newt Gingrich ever dreamt of doing in the 1990s.

During wartime -- has everybody forgotten we are at war -- the size of government always grows both in size and importance.

I don’t have a problem with expenses that are clearly related to national defense. I am a bit less comfortable with the vast sums that are going into "nation-building" in Iraq, but am willing to put up with it. I am quite certain that I do not like to see the Republican Party engaging in efforts to outbid the Democrats in terms of payoffs to favored constituencies. I understand that in a race as tight as this, the president is unwilling to alienate anyone by saying no to their pet projects. But I am not, to my knowledge, obliged to like it.

A related thought: if there is a silver lining to the hurricanes in Florida, it is that they had the good timing to arrive in a key battleground state during an election year; otherwise we might question the wisdom of using taxpayer money to bail out individuals--many of whom are wealthy--who choose to live in a region that is prone to natural disasters.

I am quite certain that I do not like to see the Republican Party engaging in efforts to outbid the Democrats in terms of payoffs to favored constituencies. I understand that in a race as tight as this, the president is unwilling to alienate anyone by saying no to their pet projects.

No doubt, this is the Achilles heel of the GOP. How, in the post-Reagan era of "smaller is better," do we wage this War on Terrorism.

We should look to history for some important insight to this problem. 1964 comes to my mind. A post-Truman/FDR Democrat Party crushed whatever was left of the old Taft-wing of the GOP. They did so with their own Achilles heel, namely the fact that the Democrat Party was still a southern party in the midst of the civil rights movement. That movement, combined with the Vietnam war, undid their party over time.

It is not surprising, to me at least, that Newt led the GOP triumph over the majority party, the Democrats, forty years after they had effectively coalesced the FDR revolution. Newt had merely "coalesced" the Reagan revolution. The only question that remains is how will the coalition, like the Democrats did, unravel. The fuss over the size and scope of the federal government will likely be the issue that will undo us.

In the meantime, I am very, very pleased we have a president who clearly understands the real threat, for now, is terrorists, not Democrats. :)

For fiscal conservatives, probably the best of all possible worlds on a practical level would be a Kerry victory, while Republicans continue to control the House and Senate. Under Clinton, the rate of spending on government was more or less steady,and deficits went down.

On national security, Democrats and Republicans would be forced to agree to spend quite a bit, otherwise the other side uses it against them in the midterms, again with an evenly split electorate.

I doubt these arguments will persuade, but I thought I’d bring them up.

Considering the state of the CIA and the State Department and all the disloyalty towards GWB there, debt might be a minor problem at the moment.

I would actually enjoy a race in 4 years between a Reagan economic and a ’compassionate conservative’, if it would revitalize the GoP and keep Buchanites out .

Plus: nobody is hindering the Congress to stop excessive spending, 10 years ago it was Clinton who was president, the president’s job isn’t to boost the economy, but to protect America, Bush does.

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