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We saw this during the Bush years among conservatives, who (mostly) ignored the administration’s profligate spending. Under Bush, domestic discretionary spending rose faster than at any time since LBJ’s. Most of those on the right were too busy rooting on the Iraq war and bashing peace activists to notice. Conservative concern about runaway federal spending did not pick up again until . . . well, until roughly 12:05 EST January 20, 2009. What a coincidence.
This team-sports approach has led to a one-way ratchet of government expansion. Conservatives were so busy supporting Bush’s expansion of war powers that they let him betray their small-government principles in domestic affairs. Liberals have been so happy to see Obama expand government’s domestic scope that they have let him betray their values on civil liberties and war powers. In the process, each side has come off looking like a bunch of partisan cheerleaders who care about certain issues only when it’s politically convenient.
That’s the thing about principles. If you don’t try to apply them consistently, then people are apt to conclude you don’t really have any.