Fairy Tales of The Right

Jacob Heilbrunn reviewed two books on the Bush administration for the New York Times. Leviathan on the Right by Michael D. Tanner shows the faults in big-government conservativism from a libertarian perspective but Heilbrunn argues that Tanner is repeating unfounded myths common on the right:

Tanner is a lucid writer and vigorous polemicist who scores a number of points against the Republican Party’s fiscal transgressions, but he has ultimately produced a fairy tale. The notion that Reagan actually fought for small government is wishful thinking. The Gipper didn’t abolish a single major federal agency, he strengthened Social Security by approving a payroll tax hike and he added $1.4 trillion to the national debt. It was Bill Clinton who left behind a $236 billion surplus in 2000, which Bush promptly squandered. Contrary to Tanner and many other Reagan idolaters, Bush hasn’t forsaken Reagan’s legacy; by engaging in simultaneous tax cuts, massive military spending and deficit spending, he has continued it.

What’s more, Tanner glides rather easily from linking the corruption of the Republican Congress to big government. There is no necessary connection between the two. The fact that a Republican Congress looted the government on behalf of big business and itself does not discredit Social Security, Medicare and a host of other programs. It simply testifies to the venality of the Republican Congress. Perhaps Tanner’s most questionable claim is that “politically, for all the internal disagreements, support for a strong national defense remains the glue that holds the various wings of the Republican Party together. The debate that will truly matter is whether or not conservatives still believe in small government.” Like it or not, conservatives such as Tanner will have to grapple with the political, moral and fiscal consequences of an imperial foreign policy.

While libertarians and fiscal conservatives are correct in their opposition to many of Bush’s policies, the Republicans have never been the champions of small government which they claim to be. In past years they often blamed Democrats who controlled part of government, promising that things would be different if they could really do what they wanted. Finally we had several years of complete government control of all three branches of government, as well as a news media which allowed them to get away with virtually anything without meaningful exposure. We saw the nightmare which came of that.

Heilbrunn also reviews It Can Happen Here by Joe Conason, believing Conason might be over reacting to some of the excesses of the Bush administration:

Whatever its intentions, however, the hallmark of the administration hasn’t turned out to be Machiavellian cunning but sheer ineptitude. Rather like the American cold warriors who insisted that the Soviet Union was vying for world domination even as it was going poof in the late 1980s, Conason seems reluctant to recognize that the conservative movement has been heading toward collapse. Far from consolidating a right-wing dictatorship, Bush’s actual political legacy may well turn out to be resuscitating American liberalism.

Regardless of how inept the Bush administration might be their court appointees will continue to have an impact for years to come. Although the public has awakened to their incompetence following Katrina and Iraq, many still do not recognize how bad the policies of the Bush administration have been and there is no guarantee that similar conservatives won’t be elected in the future. There is even the danger that voters will not understand Heilbrunn’s message quoted above and blame government itself for the problems arising from Repubican rule and fall for Republican rhetoric again.

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