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September 20, 2005

Big Government Conservatism

Stephen Moore, former Club for Growth head and all-around nutty tax-cutter, penned an op-ed in the WSJ that you can just tell had him sobbing tears of frustration by the last line. Nevertheless, it's fairly good stuff, if only for the minty-cool refreshing feeling that comes from seeing at least one conservative flip out at Bush for betraying everything he believes in. To wit:

Alas, in the world of compassionate conservatism, the quaint notion of limited federal power has fallen to the wayside in favor of an ethic that has Uncle Sam as first, second and third responder to crisis. FEMA, despite its woeful performance, will grow in size and stature. So will the welfare state. Welcome to the new New Dealism of the GOP.

Both political parties are now willing and eager to spend tax dollars as if they were passing out goody-bags to grabby four-year-olds at a birthday party. The Democrats are already forging their 2006 and 2008 message: We will spend just as many trillions of dollars as Republicans, but we will spend them better than they do. After witnessing the first few Republican misappropriations for Hurricane Katrina, the Democrats may very well be right.

Moore's framing of compassionate conservatism as an out-and-out loss for actual conservatism is well-conceived. Bush has, during his tenure in office, greatly strengthened the American consensus on government spending and activity. From Medicare to education to foreign affairs, there's not a single area in which Bush's federal incarnation could be safely called a more humble, cautious, conservative institution than its predecessor. For small-government Republicans who voted for Bush to curb Clinton's Big Government liberalism, once the heat of partisanship wears off, they're going to realize they sent the federal government to rehab only to watch the white-hatted nurses let it do lines off their funny hats. The whole thing reminds me of something Melissa wrote in response to Kevin's piece on the surprising progressivism of Bush's accomplishments:

I’m not convinced that a list of bills, wars, and judicial appointments really encompasses everything they’ve done. Some of their accomplishments are not “wins” by the same kind of horserace definition. Failing to adequately fund and enforce existing liberal programs and legislation isn’t something they’ll put on a record of success, but if the hard-fought protections for civil rights, labor rights, and the environment aren’t adequately enforced, that’s a blow to liberalism, and a “win” for Bush-brand conservatism.

In the end, though, that's the point: the few conservative victories Bush has put on the scoreboard were sneaky, quiet, silent coups. They came through gaming the appropriations process or appointing incompetent but highly-ideological heads of organizations. They came through every backdoor, but they never entered through the front, because all Rove let the voting neighbors see was one smiling liberal achievement after another.

That's not to say Bush has been good for the country, he hasn't. But, in the end, he might end up being good its liberal consensus. After him, a traditional Republican with an appetite for entitlement-slicing is going to find himself far, far out of the American mainstream, because for all Bush has done to pull the Democrats right on foreign policy, his political advisor has spurred him to blitz left on economic issues. Granted, he's combined that with a disastrous series of tax cuts, but American history tends to prove folks prefer tax increases -- particularly on the rich -- to deep spending cuts. Some have argued that the defunding of government at the exact moment it gets larger is a covert plan to choke it in the future. Maybe. But I think it much more likely to create a wave of populist resentment and tax policy in this country.

September 20, 2005 in Republicans | Permalink

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Comments

OTOH, yes, but OTOTH not so much.

One very dangerous thing Bush has done is concela the true costs of his programs. He's run up the deficit like a teenager with a no-limit credit card.

The question I have is what happens to the Democrats when they say, "listen, y'all gotta pay taxes," and people pay the taxes? If Republicans run as the party of "have your cake and eat it, too" and Democrats run as the party of "have your cake OR eat it, but ya gotta decide," who will the American people prefer?

And what happens to America if they choose the Republicans?

Posted by: theorajones | Sep 20, 2005 1:12:17 PM

"I think it much more likely to create a wave of populist resentment and tax policy in this country."

Let's hope you're right, but I fear Theorajones "America" will get one last go-around. And then what?...

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