Skip to comments.Conservatives also buy big government
Posted on 08/19/2003 2:26:35 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
Somewhere between Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, conservatives may have lost the battle against big government.
Oddly enough, as the partisan differences grow sharper, the practical differences between the two major parties grows fuzzier, at least on domestic issues. Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, describes Bush as a "big-government conservative."
The president has shown no discomfort with big government or increasing federal spending. In his first two years in office, Bush increased spending on schools by 40 percent. He's proposed a prescription drug benefit for Medicare that will cost $400 billion over 10 years. On both education and prescription drugs, Bush's top Democratic ally has been the icon of congressional liberalism, U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.).
While they acknowledge the reality of big government, Bush and Kennedy veer sharply from a common start. The No Child Left Behind Act is a good example. Some background:
Public schools are a responsibility of state and local government. The federal government contributes only about 7 cents on the dollar. It has concentrated its efforts on the heavy-burden exceptions: special education, the poor, and aid to local systems disproportionately affected by military bases. The point is that the federal government has rightly deferred to states and to local school boards to drive education.
Since 1965, the federal government has spent more than $120 billion on schools serving the poor with little to show for it. Bush, in seeking reauthorization two years ago, agreed to increase spending by 11.5 percent, including $9.1 billion for poor schools, a sum that is up to $12.3 billion in the 2004 budget, the most federal dollars ever.
Kennedy, who welcomed the spending, sees No Child Left Behind as a massive new infusion of federal money. He wants more. "Reform without resources is just hollow talk," he said. "The president's proposal may provide the money to test our children, but not enough to teach them."
Kennedy, starting with big government, finishes with bigger government. Bush, starting with big government, finishes with a distinctly different government -- not smaller, but decentralized.
Bush's education secretary, Rod Paige, argued that accountability requirements would provide essential information to parents, leading them to demand alternatives. Conservatives saw it as more unwarranted federal spending and without reforms, such as vouchers, dropped at Kennedy's behest.
Two years later, it's obvious that Paige was right. The federal government, taking a page from the liberals' book, has become the driving force in pushing states to embrace choice and to give parents more freedom in where they send their children. The direction is set, and No Child Left Behind has done it.
Americans have grown comfortable with big government, a legacy of the 1960s. As a culture, we have bought into the notion that adults can be as irresponsible as they choose in lifestyle decisions and government will construct a safety net to catch their consequences. In some cases, it's not irresponsibility; it is that adults have changed behaviors to conform to government incentives. In Georgia, for example, 73 percent of undergraduate students receive state grants, giving parents incentives to spend the money their parents saved for the children's college. Government has built a dependency and, since 25 percent of the nation's taxpayers pay 84 percent of the cost of government, there's no incentive to go back.
Bush grows government, but activates it for conservative ends, just as the Great Society programs of the 1960s did for liberals. Roles now are reversed. Conservatives push for change; liberals defend the status quo.
Liberals scoff at programs such as those promoting marriage or encouraging teen abstinence as foolish conservative activism by government. Maybe. But when was the last time you saw somebody smoking on television? No one thing works. But if liberal activism used government as a vehicle to drive society in one direction, conservative activism can use it to take society in another.
Jim Wooten is associate editorial page editor. His column appears Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays.
Isn't that one facet of leadership...getting people to listen? Otherwise one is just a simple minded caretaker, a follower. Bush is clearly not simple minded.
You can tilt at windmills or you can get down in the ditch and get dirty.
I take it you do not agree that Bush's words and deeds suggest he believes bigger, more powerful, more intrusive government in several areas (education, farm, medicare....) is a good thing. How come? Getting in that ditch is not doing our country much good at home, the tax cuts excepted.
For some reason, the Bush defenders simply refuse to acknowledge that certain actions are not conservative. They seem happier with axioms, anecdotes and platitudes and analogies. At best they may say 'I don't agree with everything....' without much in specifics.
How can we ever get to where we want, assuming we want smaller, less intrusive, less costly, Constitutional government, if we refuse to clearly identify and criticize certain actions that lead in the entirely opposite direction?
Also, Wooten certainly does have a different take on "conservative" big government spending than other articles have taken on the topic.
In other words, is decentralizing big government bureaucracy while resourcing big government mandates (especially if those mandates promote a conservative approach to social issues such as education and faith-based initiatives to combat welfare) anti-conservative?
I believe they're doing just that.
If Bush, who is a moderate, lost the popular vote in 2000, then a Conservative would have lost in a landslide.
There is no such thing as a True Conservative.
My statement still applies, regardless.
I, for one, am not giving up on small government, because therein lies more freedom (a principle, and an important one).
Which of the major parties is more likely to shrink government over the long run?
My battle is not against Democrats as such. If there are any Dims who respect the constitutional limits of the federal government and seek to reduce the size of government, I'll support them.
Then you are part of the problem. Electing such Democrats gives the whole Democrat Party more power and they will ignore what the Conservative Democrats have to say. The Liberals like your attitude.
Of course, I don't know of any Dims who fit this description.
Yes, but you are vulnerable.
No doubt there were those in this country who opposed the American revolution,...
There are plenty of people against everything. That's the way it is.
Is he a Freeper-like true conservative? Probably not, but neither is most of the U.S. Confidentially, just in case it hasn't dawned on everyone here, people who believe like us are in the minority in this country. And that's remained true in every year in which "conservatism" has won victories ... 1980, 84, 94, 00, 02.
It's won those victories and nothing has really changed, and we get all hot and bothered and rant and rave, when IMHO the simple fact is that there is no great desire among the American electorate ... even those who voted with "us" ... to totally undo the New Deal and Great Society and go completely back to "true conservatism" or "rugged individualism" or whatever you want to call it.
I've mentioned my father here many times, rest his soul. He voted Republican/conservative for the last quarter century of his life (and he didn't die as an old man, was 61) and he utterly REVERED Ronald Reagan ... but at the same time he cast those votes he was an unrepentant New Dealer who wanted every bit of federal largesse that was coming his way, a union man to his very core and he rejoiced in every federal court decision designed to make things fair for "the little man."
And I daresay that disconnect between how people vote and what they believe is not uncommon in this country. Or we can delude ourselves and think that everybody in those Dem strongholds that voted for Reagan in '84 was doing it because they wanted to take the country back to true conservatism. No, it was a personal victory for Reagan without a thing to do with philosophy ... and I fear Bush will be re-elected for the same reason next year and there'll be a whole bunch more people here disappointed with him.
So what do we do, give up and move to the hills? No, we have two choices ... (a.) take this country back to true conservatism through armed revolt and revolution or (b.) keep plugging away and try to educate people and sell them on why true conservatism is best and right, even if it takes 500 years.
I rather prefer option B.
Me too. Option A will always be there.
Please. Throwing more money at the failing school infrastructure in a big fat Teddy Kennedy spend-fest is not going to solve the problem and that's just what Bush did. Bush is doing a good job in the international arena, but domestically, he is not a conservative. The GOP controls the big three branches of the FedGov there has been little in terms of conservative initiatives.