Thursday, August 21, 2003
Hard to dispute this piece about how Bush has re-inaugurated the era of Big Government. I don't even know that there's any real dispute about this question.
The Cato-oids are the only part of the Republican coalition decidedly on the outs in this administration. (Well, the paleos are on the outs, too, but I'm not sure the paleos are really part of the Republican coalition, not since Buchanan's revolt.) Bush may not have done everything the Christian Right wants, but he has made the courts an issue, he appointed Ashcroft AG, and he's been using the bully pulpit. Bush has been aggressively pro-business, supporting investment-friendly tax cuts but also indulging in protectionism and more frequently indulging in corporate-welfarism through both tax loopholes and spending. The neo-cons can certainly applaud Bush's prosecution of the War on Terror. Who's out in the cold? The limited-government types. They're against the corporate welfare, against the increasing complication of the tax code (and the use of said code to micro-manage both the economy and social policy), against government entanglement with religious groups (a likely consequence of using them to deliver government services), and, not infrequently, against the war (on the grounds that we could better defend ourselves by withdrawing from the world).
What would have kept the limited-government types inside the tent was some serious effort to rein in entitlements. Such an effort was very prominently part of Bush's 2000 campaign: Bush promised to reform Medicare and partially privatize Social Security. Those would be enormous achievements that any limited-government conservative would applaud. But they have been dropped entirely from the agenda. I don't think this is because of the war, though certainly the war must be Bush's top priority. I think it's because, for better or worse, Bush does not believe that he's got the votes to do anything about spending, and his approach to domestic matters has been very politically-driven rather than policy-driven. Bush surrendered on the education bill before the war began, and his retreat on Medicare reform (unlike, say, the federalization of airport security) isn't at all war-related.
Mainstream conservatives should worry about this, for all the reasons outlined in Taylor and Vandoren's piece above. But Republicans should also worry about it for political reasons. Limited-government conservatives are a meaningful slice of the electorate. Anyone in that slice who was against the Iraq war (and I suspect that covers a bunch of people) will have little reason to support the GOP in '04, and could easily defect to a credible Libertarian alternative. If the election is close (and, with the right Democrat candidate and a lousy economy, it could be) those defections could make the difference. And even if they don't make the difference in the Presidential election, they could make the difference in close Senate or gubernatorial contests. A big party has to be pragmatic, and not make the perfect the enemy of the good. But you can't have a core ideological constituency wondering whether the party has abandoned its core beliefs.