...as of Saturday December 13th.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
A lot has been made of Bill Kristol’s recent NY Times column in recent days, especially at the National Review’s Corner. Kristol argues, in a piece aptly titled “Small isn’t Beautiful”,
“So talk of small government may be music to conservative ears, but it’s not to the public as a whole. This isn’t to say the public is fond of big-government liberalism. It’s just that what’s politically vulnerable about big-government liberalism is more the liberalism than the big government. (Besides, the public knows that government’s not going to shrink much no matter who’s in power.)”Ross Douthat agrees with portions of Kristol’s argument, but believes small government conservatives shouldn’t abandon their mission simply because it is not politically expedient. He writes:
“Too often, when domestic-policy debates come up, conservatives are far too eager to change the subject: The public says education; the Right say "let's talk about capital-gains tax cuts." The public says health care; the Right says "let's talk about terrorism." The public says infrastructure; the Right says ... "let's refurbish military bases"?? Apparently so.Matt Welch with Reason magazine has a less than enthusiastic review of Kristol’s piece. He says: “Big-Government Conservative, After Helping Big-Government Conservatism Fail, Advocates Big-Government Conservatism.” The conservatives at RedState have similar disdain for Kristol’s argument. They argue:
There are very, very good reasons to think that the United States has a serious problem with aging transportation infrastructure, which happens to be an area where government by necessity has a substantial role to play. It would behoove conservatives, then, to join the debate over how to modernize our infrastructure - as, to their credit, some are - rather than just ceding the field completely to Barack Obama.”
“See, Bill Kristol thinks small government conservatives ride on the short bus on which so many readers of the New York Times ride. Small government conservatives actually recognize that government is going to grow. The question is: where should government grow? Kristol would have it grow in all areas with a bunch of technocrats managing the growth. Small government conservatives would have it grow in constitutional legitimate areas and would have it shrink in constitutionally illegitimate areas.”I happen to agree with Kristol on this issue: I often hear from libertarians that the populace as a whole wants a small government, something I have never seen to be the case (at least not in a prolonged consistent manner). Populists and small government conservatives make easy pickings of the pork and waste that goes on in Washington, and any sane citizen in this country is likely to be equally appalled by such things. This however doesn’t stop citizens from supporting projects that bring money and jobs to their communities, and end up keeping politicians in office if they deliver on their campaign promises to improve the lives of their constituents. What politician running for office says he will not fight for the projects that will bring income and employment to the people he represents? And what individual would support such a candidate? American’s may say they hate “big government,” but if there is money to be made from it, they surely want a piece of it.
Even if American’s believe the government provides too much in the way of welfare and government subsidies, an increasingly large number of American’s take government assistance in one form of another.
More importantly, if conservatives want to catapult themselves back into positions of power, they are going to need more than slogans in opposition to Obama’s recommended public works program. There are substantial and persuasive arguments made in recent years, that Roosevelt’s New Deal programs actually hurt the economy more than they helped it during the depression, and that it was only the Second World War that brought America out of its slump. This thesis may be correct; I don’t have the economic know how to argue for or against it.
What I can say however is that a majority of the citizenry believed Roosevelt was helping them during those dire years. A majority believed he was on their side, and that he was doing all he could to make their lives better. That perception matters, both in politics and in our assessment of history. When George Bush stood at Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks, and said we would do all in our power to bring the people responsible for the tragedy to justice, it struck a chord with many Americans. It took years of incompetence to squander that goodwill (with an equal share of hyper partisanship from the opposition), but it was real and it was genuine.
But it surely didn’t have to do with facts and figures, and that’s something small government conservatives should consider in the coming years as the opponents to Obama’s big government mission.