Following up on the conversation I initiated here, let me offer this article and this chart. While it would seem that proponents of smaller government would have reason to be unhappy with the Bush Administration’s record, the most rapid growth in entitlements seems to follow from the 1996 welfare reform applauded by conservatives of all stripes. Our solicitude for the working poor--who we hope will move toward ever greater self-sufficiency--has led to the expansion of Medicaid, food stamps (omitted from the on-line chart, but in the print edition, which I had lots of time to read this morning while waiting for our van to be serviced), child nutrition programs, and the Earned Income Tax Credit. Pell Grants have also grown quite rapidly over the past five years.
All of this strikes me as consistent with the agenda of "compassionate conservatism," whose original purpose was eventually to build a culture of personal responsibility in place of the culture of government dependency. Transition costs will be high, as they would be if we moved from the current social security system to one more dependent upon individual retirement accounts. But the long-term future looks better, assuming that those newly independent and personally responsible folks act the way we expect them to.
Update: Jon Schaff has some interesting thoughts. For the most part, that portion of the conservative blogosphere that I patrol simply deplores the growth of government without considering whether theres a method to the seeming madness. Id love to see an argument that theres no difference between spending that promotes self-sufficiency and responsibility, on the one hand, and spending that perpetuates dependency, on the other, or an argument that those who think that any government spending can promote the former are delusional. But most of what Im seeing is some variation on the theme "big government is bad, and look how out of control its been during the Bush years." Have I missed something? I need links!