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Unlimited Government
So many Republicans are "conservatives" mainly in that they 1. Aren't Democrats, and 2. Try to inject religious nuttery into policy. Neither point qualifies them for actual conservatism (à la being "classically liberal).

They claim to be against welfare, but they only mean welfare for poor people. There's welfare pork -- like the recently-nixed "Bridge to Nowhere" -- and lobbyist-driven welfare for corporations. So...in what way are they better than the Democrats? They just tax our asses and hand the proceeds out to different folks. And nobody seems to care a whit about the eeenormous debt we're leaving to future generations.

William Voegell writes in the LAT that, as one Republican laments, conservatives have "lost (their) brand," and they need to try to deliver what Reagan couldn't -- truly limited government:

In his inaugural address in 1981, Reagan said, "It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the federal establishment and to demand recognition of the distinction between the powers granted to the federal government and those reserved to the states or to the people." In his farewell address eight years later, the president said, "[M]an is not free unless government is limited. There's a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts."

But in between the two speeches, government did nothing but expand. In 1981, the federal government spent $678 billion; in 1989 it spent $1.144 trillion. Factoring out inflation, that was an increase of 19% in real spending. Republicans never expected that Reagan would leave office with a "federal establishment" one-fifth larger than when he arrived.

...In the 1980s, conservatives charged that the Democratic Congress was frustrating the Republican president's efforts to limit government. In the next decade, they said the Democratic president was frustrating the Republican Congress' efforts to rein in federal spending. Then, for the first time in 50 years, Republicans controlled both Congress and the presidency from 2003 through 2006 -- and real federal spending increased 10%.

...The political challenge for conservatives is this: Rather than allowing skirmishes about hundreds of different programs to indirectly determine the size of government, they need to shape the debate over the fate of individual programs in terms of the proper extent of the government's responsibilities. For instance, the earned income tax credit is popular among liberals and conservatives. Its political invulnerability shows that liberals have won the argument over whether the government has an obligation to help needy people. It also shows, however, that conservatives have won the argument against the belief in a "right" to public assistance that cannot be qualified by any distinctions between the deserving and undeserving poor.

The earned income credit's popularity suggests that conservatives could also win the argument in favor of means-testing entitlement programs. A nation wealthy enough to have a welfare state is wealthy enough to have lots of people who don't need most of what the welfare state provides. And a nation decent enough to maintain programs like the tax credit is decent enough to care for its poor citizens without bribing affluent taxpayers with entitlement benefits they don't need.

American liberals wake up every morning thinking about all the suffering and injustice they could alleviate if only the public sector didn't have to scrape by with 32% of our gross domestic product. The trouble is, Sweden's social democrats wake up every morning thinking about all the suffering and injustice they could alleviate if only their public sector weren't forced to scrape by with 55% of GDP -- and American liberals have little to say about what they find objectionable or excessive about this Scandinavian model.

Rather than waiting for the next Ronald Reagan, conservatives might do their cause more good by pressing liberals to answer these questions: What would be enough? When does the welfare state reach the point that it doesn't need one more budget increase? One more new program? One more percentage point of the GDP?

Posted by aalkon at October 28, 2007 9:26 AM

Comments

From my understanding of a) classic liberalism (Adam Smith, John Mill, John Stuart Mill, et. al., and b) classic conservatism, I truly don't think that conservatism has much to do with classic liberalism.

I am not saying that many of our lefties have a whole lot to do with classic liberalism either, and I'm not saying that classic conservatism doesn't have some philosophy behind it -- it's just not classic liberalism.

(Have to go make breakfast for my kids now -- I don't know that they deserve it, their hometown team one last night against my (alumni) team and I'm certain I won't hear the end of that.) Enjoy your day!

Posted by: jerry at October 28, 2007 7:24 AM

It doesn't. And the left isn't "classically liberal," either, but they don't pretend to be the party of small government, either.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 28, 2007 7:42 AM

Why are we talking about the President again when it is Congress which has the Constitutional duty of funding?

Mr. Reagan paid for his 600-ship Navy with Congressional pork. Of course, that Navy has since been scrapped so that the reduction in force of 270 thousand military personnel could be called a reduction in the number of Federal employees.

Posted by: Radwaste at October 28, 2007 8:08 AM

"Its political invulnerability shows that liberals have won the argument over whether the government has an obligation to help needy people."

Sort of, but the problem is that the definition of "needy" keeps expanding. And so we get items such as the recent SCHIP program expansion, in some cases to people making $80,000 a year, under the guise of helping the needy.

Posted by: doombuggy at October 28, 2007 8:42 PM

Funny how one issue relates to another, for example how Illegal immigration relates to the lack of farm labor relates to public assistance. At various times and places the agricultural economy has tanked and people who worked there have flocked to the cities. Rather than return to the fields or move to parts of the country where they could find jobs politicians happily turned them into a paid constituency and put them on the dole. Now we bring in illegal immigrants to do what we are paying our own citizens not to do, not because no one can be found to do the work.

Anyone who thinks throwing money at the 'needy' solves anything should consider their own ner-do-well relatives and experiences with throwing money at them to see if they go away. Instead, take it upon themselves to invest time and money in a 'needy' person, one in their family if the need exists, otherwise adopt someone from their community. Help the person get cleaned up, housed, detoxed, deloused and gainfully employed. Then see how you feel about all the government programs

My wife was a bleeding heart liberal until I gradually got her to pay attention to how she felt about bailing out members of our own family, children or nephews, nieces rather than making them stand on their own and deal with the consequences of their bad decisions. When she realized that she had a double standard on the matter she was quite surprised.

In a lot of countries the cards are really stacked against people unless they are born to privilege, but I think in the USA there are enough opportunities to go around provided the person speaks or is willing to learn English and makes other good choices. I don't agree with paying people to make bad choices as in making babies without two committed parents or refusing to assimilate.

Lets remain the land of opportunity and not become the land of entitlement.

Posted by: James House at October 29, 2007 9:48 AM

Personally I think there should be a flat 10% tax, and a flat 5% property tax on anything over $25,000 - no sales tax

Break that down to 10% for the county, 60% for the sate and 40% for the feds. Anything not spent IS NOT refunded but rolled over to the next years budget - once every 5 yrs half of any excess funds are rolled up one level.

No tax deductions or tax exemption for charitable donations, to tax deferments or breaks for business. Guudlines detailing what is allowable for a business expense - Eample an ordinary bussiness desk runs $200, you want to spend $80,000 on John Addams desk for your law office you can only deduct the $200


No federal funds used for state level projects, unless 3 qualifications met - 1 project per bill, 2 each bill is an individual process(no late night additions to defense spending bills) 3 - it must pass by an 85% margin

All federal assistance programs have qualifiers - manditory birth control, job placment training(job corp), proof of effort - check in on a regular basis with proof you are trying to find work

Ofcourse none of this will ever happen - too mant americans are content to sit around and get fat of the work the generations before us did - and the government is far too happy with an uniformed apathetic electorate who whould rather bitch then affect acctual change

Posted by: lujlp at October 29, 2007 11:06 AM

Most conservatives I know are as opposed to corporate welfare as the other kind. We have this unfashionable notion that the Constitution limits the power of the Federal Government.

Posted by: MarkD at October 30, 2007 8:17 AM

Why arent the conservites you know running the conservite party?

Posted by: lujlp at October 30, 2007 3:01 PM

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