Big Government Conservative Or Just A Politician?

Fred Barnes isn’t the first person to say something like this about President Bush…

“The case for Mr. Bush’s conservatism is strong. Sure, some conservatives are upset because he has tolerated a surge in federal spending, downplayed swollen deficits, failed to use his veto, created a vast Department of Homeland Security, and fashioned an alliance of sorts with Teddy Kennedy on education and Medicare. But the real gripe is that Mr. Bush isn’t their kind of conventional conservative. Rather, he’s a big government conservative. This isn’t a description he or other prominent conservatives willingly embrace. It makes them sound as if they aren’t conservatives at all. But they are. They simply believe in using what would normally be seen as liberal means–activist government–for conservative ends. And they’re willing to spend more and increase the size of government in the process.”

I’m going to have respectfully disagree with Mr. Barnes here because I think Bush’s love of “big government” has everything to do with politics and very little to do with ideology.

If there is such a thing as “big government conservatism”, who are its adherents who aren’t running for office? Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single conservative commentator who favors significantly expanding domestic programs and social spending. I’m not saying they don’t exist, but the fact that I can’t think of one off the top of my head tells you that they’re a pretty small group if they’re out there.

Now there are plenty of Conservatives who’re willing to hold their nose and accept the fact that Bush is expanding the size of government because they think that’s what it will take to win the White House. But that’s no different than the Democrats who were willing to forgive Clinton for signing NAFTA and Welfare reform because they believed that’s what it took for Clinton to get reelected.

Barnes goes on to say…

“Big government conservatives are favorably disposed toward what neoconservative Irving Kristol has called a “conservative welfare state.” (Neocons tend to be big government conservatives.) This means they support transfer payments that have a neutral or beneficial effect (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid) and oppose those that subsidize bad behavior (welfare). Mr. Bush wants to reform Social Security and Medicare but not shrink either.”

Yes, but do they support those programs because they understand that they have to politically or because that’s what they genuinely believe in? Moreover, even if you don’t want to “shrink either” program, that doesn’t make you a big government conservative. Considering the massive growth of both of those programs and the political impossibility of significantly shrinking either one of them, simply stopping them from growing would be very helpful in reducing the size of government over the long-term.

Because of the way politics works, politicians who are willing to compromise on their principles, especially when it comes to spending, have a big advantage over those who won’t. Unfortunately, that’s just how the system is designed. Bush understands that and is taking advantage of it. That doesn’t make him a “big government conservative,” it just makes him a crafty politician. There is a difference…

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