by John Hawkins | May 4, 2006 6:49 am
David Frum has written a gloomy piece for CATO about the future of conservatism. To make a long story short, he seems to think that Bush has put out the last sparks of Gingrich’s Republican Revolution and it’s all downhill from here.
Here’s a short excerpt that doesn’t truly capture the complexity of Frum’s column, but does at least allow you to perceive the flavor of the piece:
“The fairest chance to achieve the limited-government agenda passed with only very limited conservative success.
The state is growing again—and it is pre-programmed to carry on growing. Health spending will rise, pension spending will rise, and taxes will rise.
Now I still continue to hope that the Republican Party will lean against these trends. But there’s a big difference between being the party of less government and a party of small government. It’s one thing to try to slow down opponents as they try to enact their vision of society into law. It’s a very different thing to have a vision of one’s own.
And the day in which we could look to the GOP to have an affirmative small-government vision of its own has I think definitively passed.”
Here’s the thing: George Bush may have followed Ronald Reagan, but the hearts of the GOP still belong to the Gipper — at least on domestic issues. Although Bush has managed to revolutionize the way conservatives view foreign policy, conservatives have utterly rejected his, “big government Republicanism.”
Of course, that hasn’t always been apparent for a number of reasons. In 2000, Bush may have run as a, “compassionate conservative,” but Republicans simply didn’t understand that meant he’d be spending money like Ted Kennedy. Then in 2004, the election ended up being all about foreign policy, not big government.
But, today? Bush’s domestic policy on issues like illegal immigration and spending are finally front and center and it’s no coincidence that most polls, slanted to the left though they may be, show his approval rating in the low thirties.
That doesn’t mean Bush is the only Rockefeller Republican out there. He has plenty of Republican comrades, especially in the Senate. But unfortunately, that’s just the nature of the beast. You’re going to have trouble getting Reagan Republicans elected in the most liberal states.
Plus, let’s face it: our system is geared to reward big spenders. You bring a pork project home to your district or throw some swag to a constituency group and they’ll give you pats on the back, campaign contributions, and votes. You take away their loot and those same groups will claim you’re a racist, sexist, child hating, hate mongerer who wants old people to starve.
On the other hand, you get very little credit for saving the taxpayers money because the budget is so out of control, that even 10 million, 50 million, or 100 million dollar cuts seem like small potatoes. But, here’s the thing: that turned out to be just as true in the mid-nineties. Hot issues come and go and when small government and balancing the budget start becoming less of a priority to the American people, inevitably political pressure leads to wildly ballooning spending. That’s really why Gingrich and Company couldn’t sustain their momentum.
It’s all cyclical and in my opinion, nothing short of a Balanced Budget Amendment of some sort will change that over the long haul. The good news? People are getting so upset with the way that Bush and Congress are spending money that we’re getting to the point in the cycle where we may soon have a shot at getting spending controls enacted. That means those of us in the small government crowd may look like we’re down for the count, but in reality, we’re like Jason at Crystal Lake. Just when you think we’re gone for good, we always find a way to spring back to life.
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