Monday, August 18, 2003

Just read this piece (by Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard; article referred to by Oxblog) arguing that George W. Bush is a "different breed" of conservative than what has come before. Obviously referring to his horrendous track record on government spending, the author pegs Bush as a "big government conservative" -- which several years ago may have sounded like an oxymoron.

When I coined the phrase "big government conservative" years ago, I had certain traits in mind. Mr. Bush has all of them. First, he's realistic. He understands why Mr. Reagan failed to reduce the size of the federal government and why Newt Gingrich and the GOP revolutionaries failed as well. The reason: People like big government so long as it's not a huge drag on the economy. So Mr. Bush abandoned the all-but-hopeless fight that Mr. Reagan and conservatives on Capitol Hill had waged to jettison the Department of Education. Instead, he's opted to infuse the department with conservative goals.
Oxblog's response:

But Reagan did all the same things then that Bush is doing now, albeit with greater pangs of conscience. The bottom line is that Republicans maintain a rhetorical commitment to small government but tacitly admit that their cause is hopeless.
It's true. I wasn't old enough to follow politics closely at the time, but I seem to remember a rather ugly federal budget deficit during the 1980s, which conservatives, to this day, blame on the Democratic Congress -- even though most of the budgets in those years were proposed by Reagan himself.

I think it was Garry Wills who came up with the theory of how Reagan sought to achieve small government: Not by scaling back federal spending, but by appointing totally incompetant people to head federal agencies and then giving them budgets grossly out of proportion to what the government could pay for so that "big government" would eventually drive itself into the ground.


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