Republicans and Big Government

In order to achieve a majority Republicans have had to unite groups with vastly different goals, ranging from libertarians to the religious right. This has led to many being disappointed with the results of the GOP controlled government. Yesterday I noted a set of articles in The Washington Monthly in which seven prominent conservatives realized that their goal of limiting government might be better served by split government in light of the failure of the Republicans to control spending. I’ve been planning to purchase a book along these lines which came out yesterday entitled The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party. TCS Daily has posted the entire first chapter. Here’s a brief selection:

After the government-shutdown debacle, the Republicans began searching for a new approach. The American people might hate big government in theory, the new thinking went, but at the same time they don’t have much appetite for seeing government programs that they’ve become attached to get slashed.

Thus, Texas Governor George W. Bush came onto the scene in 1999, groomed by a woman named Karen Hughes and backed by a shadowy figure named Rove, with something called, “compassionate conservatism.” The phrase made conservative stalwarts bristle (was conservatism in and of itself somehow less than compassionate, they asked), and it made liberal partisans titter (did Republicans really think they could disguise their cold-hearted agenda behind a linguistic trick, they asked) — but there was far more substance behind the phrase than any of the skeptics realized at the time.

This wasn’t the old Republican agenda of cutting taxes and the government programs they fund gussied up with a little rouge and lipstick. This was a different animal entirely. “Too often, my party has confused the need for limited government with a disdain for government itself,” Bush said during the 2000 campaign. He derided the idea that “if government would only get out of our way, all our problems would be solved.” He called this a “destructive mindset” with “no higher goal, no nobler purpose, than ‘Leave us alone.'” Instead, Bush said, America needed less “sprawling, arrogant, aimless government” and more “focused and effective and energetic government.”

To skeptics, that sounded an awful lot like saying America needed less bad big government and more good big government — with “bad” meaning Democrat-controlled and “good” meaning Republican-controlled.

The skeptics are still waiting to be proved wrong.

Judging by CPAC 2005, which dedicated virtually its entire middle day to the issue of out-of-control spending (panels included “Cutting Spending Is Tough Work, But Somebody Has To Do It” and “They Take and Spend What We Earn, But Won’t Let Us Save It”), it sure didn’t sound like Republican big government had turned out to be any more “focused and effective and energetic” than Democratic big government.

In fact, quite the opposite. If anything, one-party big government run by Republicans has turned out to be a massively bloated endeavor. According to the conservative Heritage Foundation, federal spending grew twice as fast in Bush’s first term as it did under Clinton — and the bulk of the growth was in non-defense spending. What’s more, the spending hasn’t been turned toward any particularly conservative ends. The president’s signature education law, No Child Left Behind, boosted federal spending on education 137 percent from 2001 to 2006, while all but abandoning free-market education reforms such as vouchers and charter schools. There was nothing conservative about the massive giveaway of subsidies to farmers in 2002. There was precious little conservative about the Medicare prescription-drug benefit in 2003. And there was absolutely nothing conservative about the tariffs implemented to protect the steel, shrimp and lumber industries in Bush’s first term.

Some conservatives may believe they are co-opting big government. In reality, it is co-opting them.

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  1. 1
    J says:

    Conservative means different things to different people, as you are obviously aware. Bush is no conservative in the classical sense. In terms of growing government, he’s the most liberal president since Nixon.

    Libertarians and fiscal conservatives are close kin. Both are ineffective in the current political system, which is powered by campaign contributions in exchange for corporate welfare. The Democrats and Republicans are different sides of the corporate coin. They are close kin; just compare Kennedy and McCain’s (or the liberal and conservative senator of your choice) voting records. On non-social issues, they vote in lock-step for laws that help the people that fund their campiagns.

    An observation of one who isn’t interested in contributing to the status quo; the right is saddled with the religous fanatics. Most Americans find them disgusting. The left is saddled with gay activist, hippies, Al Gore style environmentalist, the ACLU, etc… Most Americans find them disgusting.

    Somehow the right gets more mileage out of its undesirables than the left.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:


    “Conservative means different things to different people, as you are obviously aware. Bush is no conservative in the classical sense. In terms of growing government, he’s the most liberal president since Nixon.”

    Liberal also means different things to different people. Besides self-described liberal holding a variety of views, liberal as used by non-liberals can also mean something totally different. Many conservatives use liberal to mean support for big governent and opposition to the free market. It’s not worth arguing over labels other than to note that if such definitions were really accurate I’d have to rename this site as by that definition I’m not a liberal. If we do go with such definitions, then yes, Bush and Nixon were too of the most liberal presidents. With his wage and price controls, Nixon could be argued to have come the closest to socialism.

    Regardless of what we call it (liberalism or, as I’d prefer, big-governent conservativism) Bush is definately a disappointment to fiscal conservatives and libertarians.

    “just compare Kennedy and McCain’s (or the liberal and conservative senator of your choice) voting records.”

    There’s some truth to this, but the parties are becomming more polarized over issues beyond social issues. One suggestion: If you post this argument on conservative blogs, don’t use McCain as your conservative example. Many conservatives see McCain as a liberal, despite his actual record.

    “Somehow the right gets more mileage out of its undesirables than the left.”

    That’s because the right wing specializes in demonizing opponents. There’s a lot of criticism of the religious right, but most of that is in publications and web sites which are read by those who already hold such positions. The right wing is far more aggressive in attacking gays, environmentalists, the ACLU, etc and getting it into the mainstream.

    Of all the “undesirables” you mention, only the religious right is doing serious harm to the country. A gay person fighting for rights such as to marriage isn’t doing anyone else any harm, but the right wingers manage to portray this as a threat to marriage and western civilization.

  3. 3
    I_Must_B_Wrong says:

    Isn’t the mainstream media on the left? Oh crap! Did I just let the cat outta’ the bag?! DOH!

  4. 4
    Ron Chusid says:

    “Did I just let the cat outta’ the bag?! DOH!”

    Yes. You gave yourself away (as if you hadn’t already). Only conservatives think that the mainstream media is on the left.

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