Big Government Republicans Are Part Of The Problem, Not The Solution.

Over at the Weekly Standard, Ross Douthat & Reihan Salam acknowledge that conservatives are deeply unhappy with George Bush’s reckless spending, but, yet and still, they seem to be trying to make the argument that Republicans should embrace big government policies and deficit spending:

“Rather than target the “supply-side” of government, or the amount of government spending, Bush’s focus was on the “demand-side,” or the need for government services. Personal accounts carved out of Social Security would build wealth and reduce reliance on government checks. Dividend tax cuts would reward a growing “investor class” while helping to build a self-sufficient “ownership society” in which the goods of American life were widely dispersed. Marriage promotion would foster stable families and diminish demand for welfare services.

All these ideas, of course, would mean more government spending (or larger deficits) in the short term. But their appeal was crucial to Bush’s political success, and the expansion of the GOP majority that followed. Any post-Bush reckoning needs to begin with this reality–and with the acknowledgment that the president’s spending heterodoxies saved the GOP from slipping back into minority status.

Bush’s conservative critics often admit that his deviations from the small-government line bought him a temporary majority. But they insist he has sowed conservative disaffection that will leave the party worse off than when he found it. “It is largely the defection of conservatives that is driving the president’s poll numbers to new lows,” Richard Viguerie argued recently. The “opportunism” of compassionate conservatism, Andrew Busch suggested in a recent issue of the Claremont Review of Books, “will bring its own punishment. Indeed, it is already doing so.”

No doubt there is conservative disaffection today. But it failed to manifest itself during Bush’s first five years in office, when he was no less of a spender than he is now. If conservative voters have turned against their president, it’s because of his perceived incompetence–over Iraq and Katrina–and his support for immigration reform, not No Child Left Behind or the prescription drug entitlement. Indeed, if there’s any lesson to take from Bush’s sky-high popularity among conservatives for most of his presidency, it’s that the movement’s rank and file cares far less about government-cutting than its activists do.

…None of this is to say that conservatives should be happy about Bush’s spending choices. But it is to say that the president’s domestic policy is in shambles not because he duped small-government conservatives into voting for big government, but because he hasn’t delivered on the kind of big-government reforms he promised during the 2000 and 2004 campaigns. His administration has gone astray not because it has spent too much money, but because it has spent money badly.”

This is a rather bizarre rewrite of history.

The prescription drug plan? There wasn’t any enthusiasm for it from the base or the public, before or after it was passed. That monstrosity was shoved through Congress by the GOP for no other reason than to take a potential political issue away from the Democrats. No Child Left Behind was more popular, but again, it wasn’t a big factor on election day.

To the contrary, George Bush and the GOP managed to make gains at the ballot box in 2002 and 2004, primarily because of National Security — and, to a lesser extent in 2004, tax cuts and the gay marriage issue.

There are a lot of different problems that the GOP has had since then, but if you really boiled it all down to the simplest level, it would be:

1) The American people haven’t been pleased with how things are going in Iraq and since there hasn’t been a major terrorist attack in the US, they’ve become complacent about the threat from Al-Qaeda. This has significantly reduced the effectiveness of national security as an issue.

2) Tax cuts and gay marriage, two domestic areas where George Bush is strong, have been overtaken in importance by deficit spending and illegal immigration, two areas where George Bush is extremely weak.

3) Gas prices have soared.

Moreover, the idea that spending money hand over fist “on the right things” is some sort of magical election elixir for the GOP would seem to be disproven by the fact that the GOP is desperately struggling to keep control of Congress in a year when deficit spending is perhaps the single biggest factor, just ahead of illegal immigration, that’s killing the base’s enthusiasm.

The hot issues of the day? They come and go. But, getting control over spending is a conservative principle and eventually, if a Republican ignores that principle, there is going to be hell to pay — which is something that George Bush and the GOP in Washington are going to see later on this year. They’ve spent 6 years dancing with the devil on spending and in November, the check is coming due. All we can do at this point is hope that the tab isn’t so big that it costs them control of Congress.

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