Big Government Conservatism Will No Longer Win

There’s been a sea change in Washington DC and yet for some reason there are plenty who don’t want to believe it — or can’t see the forest for the trees.

I supported George W. Bush. I voted for him in 2000 and in 2004. While Bush cut taxes and was strong on national defense, his platform of “compassionate conservatism” ushered in a whole new era of big government spending that was made worse by the Obama administration. The aim of using big government as means of achieving a conservative end makes zero sense, but it’s what we witnessed.

A few examples:

1. No Child Left Behind – The moment Bush got Ted Kennedy to sign on to this legislation, everybody should have gone running. With a price tag of $25 billion a year and after nearly 10 years of implementation, there are almost no improvements. Nobody can look to NCLB and tell somebody a true success story. Aside from increasing the rate and importance of standardized testing (to no avail), this law has been useless.

2. Medicare Part D. – A boondoggle prescription drug benefit that will add nearly $9 trillion to Medicare’s unfunded liabilities. Hello Detroit!

3. TARP, auto bailouts, and AIG Bailout – $787 billion in federal spending to bail out insurance companies and banks. People will point to GAO reports saying the TARP bailouts “cost” far less because of the banks’ speediness in repaying the money. The problem was that the government got involved in the first place. The huge banks are still huge and still prone to failure. Then what?

4. Overall increased discretionary spending. – From 2001-2006, discretionary spending (this excludes homeland security expenditures) rose faster than it did the entire 8 years Bill Clinton was in office.

Whatever trust conservatives had for the Republican Party was nearly lost by the time Senator Barack Obama trounced McCain in November of 2008. 

When Barack Obama came into office, he rode in with a strong Democratic majority and proceeded to take Bush’s spending to a whole new level. First up, the failed $800 billion stimulus bill. Then additional bailouts. Obamacare soon followed.

The overreach and the anger left over by what happened in 2008 gave the US House of Representatives it’s majority back. It also gave us Senators and Representatives such as Marco Rubio, Justin Amash, Todd Young, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee. Ted Cruz would come not long after.

It ushered in a whole new era of politicians. One that Washington DC’s power structure could not control. 

They brought with them a new type of conservatism. One that pushed back against using government to advance an agenda and instead sought to return power back to the American people. Ben Domenech and TP Carney refer to this strain as “libertarian populism.” Ben explains:

For all this talk of late regarding conservative reform, the most successful conservative reform project of the post-Reagan era was not from the top down, but the bottom up. The Tea Party joined those who favored limited government together regardless of their priorities, and they were successful in a not insignificant part because they were running with the tides of American sentiment as opposed to against them – with a rising skepticism for institutions, particularly those of great size.

They wanted to reform the party, but they did not want the party to just be satisfied with a reform message. Where the traditional trends of Thomas Dewey tend Republicanism toward fixing the institutions of government and society, this new strand had more in common with Charles Murray, whose “What It Means to Be a Libertarian” makes the case not for fixing the departments of Commerce, Agriculture, Energy, and Housing and Urban Development, but for eliminating them and replacing them with, and I quote, “Nothing.”

Rand Paul is going to offer the GOP primary voters in 2016 (and beyond) a principled alternative to the establishment’s soft technocracy. He is presenting a brand of libertarianism which offers the people a long overdue challenge to the establishment and the fusionist movement. Libertarian populists recognize intrinsically that the old fusionism is dead. The seat atop the legs of the stool was communism, and then for a brief time – really, just 2004 – Islamic terrorism. Today the most reliable social conservatives are also the most economically conservative, and there is no monolith on foreign policy. The New Fusionism is libertarian populism, and it understands: there is no stool.

As Mike Gannon argued last month, there needs to be (and we’re seeing a start of it) a rejection of the technocracy in addition to the rejection of the DC power structure that we have seen since 2010.

What I find astounding is despite the push for smaller government, less regulations, and lower taxes, there has been an implicit rejection of the very politicians committed to doing just that. When I see Republicans attacking Ted Cruz more harshly than they do Harry Reid, I can only shake my head. The attack is often followed by the chest beating declaration of “We know what we’re talking about because we know how to win elections.”

Really? Like you did in 2006? 2008? How did 2012 work out?

We are seeing this power struggle play out over how best to deal with Obamacare. Putting aside all of the nonsense about “RINOs” and “clown shows,” the divide is about what is going to happen going forward with this awful legislation. The “we know how to win elections” contingent continues to espouse the pie in the sky rhetoric that all the GOP needs to do is win in 2014 and then the Presidency in 2016 and “Voila!” — Obamacare will be repealed!

Does anybody really believe that? Obamacare will have three years to fester within the bowels of our healthcare system, our government, and our economy. Yet in 2017 it will magically be pulled up by the roots and discarded into the dustbin of history where it belongs?

It won’t. The argument will shift to “fixing” or “improving” Obamacare.

It’s the promise of saying one thing to “win an election” and falling back on “working together” with their Democratic counterparts once their election is safely secured. Messrs. Bob Corker, Peter King, and others of their ilk will join the “make it better” crowd in 2017 which does nothing but grow government.

Only not as fast as if Democrats were in power.

The “fix it/make it better” solution is what we had from 2001-2008 with education, Medicare, and other areas of government. Where did that get us?

If being a “conservative” these days means returning to a time of TARP, expanding Medicare, increasing federal involvement in our education system, and “fixing” Obamacare — then I don’t want any part of it. If it means being stuck with politicians such as John McCain, Bob Corker, Peter King, Lindsey Graham, Lamar Alexander, and others who are maintaining a particular power structure — then count me out. If it means nominating candidates like Mitt Romney for president, because they are supposedly more “electable” than somebody else, then stop that bus so I can get off.

It doesn’t mean leaving the Republican Party and the idea of starting a third-party is foolish. Our two-party system works. However, I’ll happily align myself with Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Justin Amash, and the new breed of conservatives who are shaking things up because that is the future of conservatism.

The Republican Party needs to change from within. And it needs to start with rejecting the “working together” attitude that has brought us to the point where we are — $17 trillion in debt and massive unfunded liabilities with Social Security and Medicare that are going to cripple us without some kind of reform. It’s what has given us a regulatory burden that favors big business at the expense of the entrepreneur. It’s what brought us to a point where K street lobbyists wield the kind of power everybody warned us about.

The time has come to make a choice.

Conservatives can continue down the same path, alienating people along the way and being content to say, “Just wait till next year!” Or they can reject that brand of big government conservatism and blaze a new trail.