Is Defeating Big-Government Conservativsm a Victory for Big-Government Liberalism?

In Sunday's Washington Post Outlook section, the Century Foundation's Greg Anrig published a strain of curious left-of-center analysis I'm seeing more and more this election: That the Republicans are losing because limited-government ideas don't work, and are no longer popular.

This critique requires a significant leap of logic − that George W. Bush, and his would-be GOP successor John McCain, practice and/or believe in limited government principles. Anrig glides over this problem via assertion.

McCain's ongoing difficulties in exciting voters aren't just a tactical problem; his woes stem largely from his long-standing adherence to a set of ideas that simply haven't worked in practice. [...]

The single theme that most animated the modern conservative movement was the conviction that government was the problem and market forces the solution. It was a simple, elegant, politically attractive idea, and the right applied it to virtually every major domestic challenge − retirement security, health care, education, jobs, the environment and so on. Whatever the issue, conservatives proposed substituting market forces for government − pushing the bureaucrats aside and letting private-sector competition work to everyone's benefit.

So they advocated creating health savings accounts, handing out school vouchers, privatizing Social Security, shifting government functions to private contractors, and curtailing regulations on public health, safety, the environment and more. And, of course, they pushed to cut taxes to further weaken the public sector by "starving the beast." President Bush has followed this playbook more closely than any previous president, including Reagan[.]

Italics mine, to do violence to your morning coffee.

What's especially curious is that the intellectual left has been so busy this year congratulating itself on studying − and learning from − the modern intellectual history of the right. Because the most recent manifestation of that history has not been the triumph of limited government principles, but quite the opposite: Two Republican candidates in 2000 who, in one of the candidate's own words, "challenged libertarian orthodoxy" and the "'leave us alone' libertarian philosophy that dominated Republican debates in the 1990s." A Republican president who outspent LBJ. An ascendance of conservative intellectuals actively celebrating "the death of small-government conservatism." And a candidate in 2008 whose English translation of laissez-faire is T-e-d-d-y R-o-o-s-e-v-e-l-t.

To look at that landscape and declare that Republicans are riding free-market principles to their grave, is to advertise more than just ignorance. It's an act of wishful thinking, hoping that the voters who happen to agree with your political party for once are doing so because they agree with your big-government philosophy. Considering that one of the more credible Turning Points against the GOP was when Congress intervened to prolong the life of a single human vegetable, I think declaring this anti-Republican season to be a victory for re-regulation is a tad premature.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Nigel Watt||

    So...this next legislative session will be scary.

  • Episiarch||

    The single theme that most animated the modern conservative movement was the conviction that government was the problem and market forces the solution.

    You have to understand that to these people, what the GOP proposes is the "free" market. Showing them an actually free market is like showing anal fisting videos to someone who thinks Playboy is hardcore porn.

  • Matt Welch||

    Showing them an actually free market is like showing anal fisting videos to someone who thinks Playboy is hardcore porn.

    I will hold onto that image for future deployment.

  • ||

    This is pretty simple ingroup/outgroup thinking. "There are all sorts of Democrats, but Republicans are uniformly [insert stereotype here, in this case heartless libertarians]."

    It's a pretty common logic flaw that happens to those who knows enough to hate the "other side" (Dems, Repubs, Muslims, socialists, gays, teh corporashunz) but lack the effort to, you know, pay attention to what the other side actually does. Occasionally happens here (see socialists, above.)

    Worse (in theory) when the author actually gets paid to write that drivel as compared to being underemployed commenter doing it for free.

  • ||

    Episiarch,

    Thank you for both the mental image and a new analogy I will use as often as possible, whether or not it fits.

  • ktc2||

    edm,

    If it doesn't fit your not using enough lube.

  • ||

    This is a thread that would benefit from the comments of our house liberal. Where are you, joe?

  • ||

    I think declaring this anti-Republican season to be a victory for re-regulation is a tad premature

    But, if most people come to believe that it is through repetition, then it won't matter whether or not the ideals were ever actually tried; "conventional wisdom" will cause the public to reject any attempt at weakening control as having already been given a chance. Plus, if the Democrats can last out an Obama Presidency without being seen to practice the same cronyism that Bush does, they'll aslo be able to (whether fairly or not) paint that cronyism as an inevitable end result of the relaxation of regulations that supposedly prevented them.

    So, to summarize, hitching the wagons to a mainstream candidate who pays lip service to small government values while doing the opposite in hopes of affecting incremental change has provided enough ammunition to foes of small government to keep up a guerilla war for the next decade. Assuming they don't win outright. There's a lesson in there somewhere.

  • ktc2||

    To the point of the piece I think they are correct in that free market solutions are not POPULAR. They are completely wrong to associate Bush with free market ideas though.

    Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying the free market doesn't work, it does better than anything we've found so far. I'm simply stating the majority of people wont vote for it. It's too "scary" and they're too dependent on hand outs and protection.

  • Nigel Watt||

    Shem: A lesson like "politics is not a viable method of achieving liberty", perhaps?

  • ||

    Nigel-I was thinking more along the lines of "if you let Ronald Reagan (or Barack Obama, or George Bush) pretend to be a free-marketeer, you shouldn't be surprised when the failure of his actual policies (cronyism, typically) gets painted as a failure of the free-market." In other words, people judge you by the company you keep. Something our friends aligned with the libertarian-flavored groups working within the major political parties would do well to keep in mind.

  • ||

    That the Republicans are losing because limited-government ideas don't work, and are no longer popular.

    The Republicans are in trouble because their base is unhappy. You ask a Republican voter/supporter why they're unhappy with the D.C. Republicans, and the answer you will get, 9 times out of 10, is because the D.C. Republicans are spending too much damn money.

    IOW, Anrig has it exactly backwards. If the Repubs could credibly run on a lower tax (or even no-new-tax) and budget responsibility platform, they'd do much better than they are.

  • ||

    Seems to me as long as Dictator Bush is in charge, anything big government is a big defeat!

    JT
    http://www.FireMe.to/udi

  • ktc2||

    Small government isn't even a choice anymore.

    You got your choice between big government tax and spend fiscal liberals and rarely socially liberals and the other option is big government debt and spend fiscal liberals who also want to phase in theocracy.

    There's not even a vialbe option to choose small government, or fiscal conservatives or socially liberal.

    The free minds and free markets have become so unpopular that it's not even presented anymore except the occasional fringe candidate with 1/2% of the vote.

  • ||

    The issue is that Anrig echos a strengthening sentiment among mainstream Americans. Most don't believe that it's not their place to tell others what to do, so the only reason they can see people supporting small government principles is for "better results," whatever they may be.
    It's the attitude of compaigns like "United we Fail" (ahem - sponsored by AARP) where the indication is that nothing is "getting done" because of "partisan bickering," and that they should just shut up and "do something" to solve our problems. It completely rejects that there's any legitimacy at all to why, say, a senator would vote no on every bill to come up to vote that involved an expansion of government. He must be doing so only for "partisan" reasons, and he should just get over whatever his problem with the other side is and vote for what the Unity platform likes.

  • ||

    shoot me now
    shoot me now

  • ||


    Is Defeating Big-Government Conservativsm a Victory for Big-Government Liberalism?



    Whether it is or not, it is certain that the Dems will interpret it that way.

  • Brian Defferding||

    I think that's the biggest damage the Bush presidency has had - they skewered the term of "free market" and "small government" to the voting public. That "limited government" term they use is window dressing to an ugly overspending executive branch, then when the real free marketers, the Libertarians, come to promote their principles to the voters they either get wrongly lumped in with Bush and Co. or they are wrongly labeled as extremists.

  • ||

    You can call your camel "Man O' War" but he won't win the Kentucky Derby. You can call George W Peron "conservative" but that doesn't make it true.

    But Exxon makes too much money, and that's all you need to know.

  • ||

    And Republicans hate polar bears.

  • ||

    You can call George W Peron "conservative" but that doesn't make it true.

    It does if enough people agree with it. Language is funny that way.

  • ||

    This doesn't show that capitalism failed, because TRUE CAPITALIMS has never been tried.

    Seriously, it is wholly implausible that a political ideology which is critical of the state and argues for eliminating it could lead to a corrupt, abusive state. If it does, that shows that its principles have been betrayed, not that they lead to the outcome they led to.

  • ||

    ah, leave it to joe to make a completely irrelevant, gibberish-filled non-sequitur. Capitalists and their advocates must be like communists....because, well, we say the same stuff about our particular brand of governance having never been tried. Even, though, y'know, one is true and one isn't.

  • ||

    "Showing them an actually free market is like showing anal fisting videos to someone who thinks Playboy is hardcore porn." HA HA HA HOO HE!!!
    Where do people get the idea that republicans believe in limited government?
    Reregulation - yeah, the problem with Fannie and Freddie was that they SHARED a regulator (Office of financial thrift supervision). We need 4 or 5 regulators EACH for Freddie and Fannie.

  • ||

    Yeah, A. O. In summoning joe I had hoped for something more thoughtful. I now regret my impulse.

  • ||

    Well, TAO's angry "nuh-uh" certainly put me in my place.

    Imagine, the thought that preaching a particular ideology doesn't innoculate you from the temptations of power.

    There's no way that somebody who believes it isn't important for, say, FEMA to provide effective relief to people during a disaster could conclude that he can therefore use the department as a cronyist dumping ground. No way, the only possible outcome from that belief is a principled effort to whittle down government.

    I mean, next I'll be claiming that the people who believe that social welfare programs are merely a method of bribing people for votes would pass a social welfare program in order to bribe people for votes. Because, obviously, people who think that and are interested in getting more votes would never do such a thing.

    I dunno. I think somebody needs to type a few more poorly-understood Latin phrases.

  • ||

    "Showing them an actually free market is like showing anal fisting videos to someone who thinks Playboy is hardcore porn." HA HA HA HOO HE!!!
    Where do people get the idea that republicans believe in limited government? the constitution???
    Reregulation - yeah, the problem with Fannie and Freddie was that they SHARED a regulator (Office of Federal Housing Enterprize Oversight). We need 4 or 5 regulators EACH for Freddie and Fannie.

  • ||

    nothing surprising here...I've been told hundreds of times that the great depression taught us that free markets don't work and it has proven that we can't have a gold standard and need more governemnt involvment in the economy...in spite of Hoover's record spending and the implementation of the federal reserve 20 years earlier....just read some history and you see this same tactic used over and over again. Only those who are duped into believing the conventional wisdom regarding history would be surprised to see the Century Foundation come out with this line of attack supporting collectivism.

    Ever read the Ron Chernow books writing the official books covering J D Rockefeller, The Morgans, The Warburgs, Alexander Hamilton?...It seems these guys will only open their archives up to life long employees of socialist foundations like "The Century Fund".

  • ||

    Seriously, it is wholly implausible that a political ideology which is critical of the state and argues for eliminating it could lead to a corrupt, abusive state. If it does, that shows that its principles have been betrayed, not that they lead to the outcome they led to.



    I'm more than willing to say this is plausible, even that it's happened before. How does this prove that Bush is a small-government conservative, though?!?

    I'm even willing to stipulate that a libertopia might not work out as well as we might hope, and that more regulation than many of us here would be comfortable with would be necessary. But how is it that the Bush presidency exemplifies small-government conservatism? The administration that has, from its beginning, included members of the Nixon administration? The "compassionate conservative" president? The one who introduced a massive new Medicare benefit? The one who, instead of paying for his massive spending with taxes, instead financed it through massive borrowing? You actually think that this is free-market capitalism? Joe, you know better than that. Maybe our ideals are utopian, and maybe we're blinded by our ideology to the flaws in free-market capitalism. But to argue that the Bush administration in any way exemplifies free-market capitalism is just ignorant.

  • ||

    As an addendum, it's much like saying that socialism was disproven because of flaws in the New Deal. Whatever flaws are in the New Deal, they have little or nothing to do with socialism.

  • ||

    "How does this prove that Bush is a small-government conservative, though?!?"
    Yeah. I'd hoped that joe, who by now should be able to differentiate between libertarians, cons and neocons, would at least admit that lefties are capable of misreading and misidentifying their foes.
    I fear he's become the TallDave of the left. Perhaps he'll recover after the election.

  • thoreau||

    grylliade-

    I don't think the Bush administration is in any way, shape or form a "small government administration." However.......

    If you accept the libertarian critique of the state, and conclude that it is corrupt, incompetent, and a means for bribing constituencies, there is more than one possible response to that fact. The libertarian response, of course, is to make it as small as possible. But one could just as easily look at it, say "Oh, yeah, it is a means for bribing constituencies and rewarding cronies! Sweet!"

    I sometimes wonder if one reason why Republicans have been able to sweet-talk libertarians is that a few of them understand our ideas even better than we do, i.e. they see the other side of that coin....

  • ||

    grylliade,

    I'm not saying that Bush's presidency has been a demonstration project for how the affirmative, small-government-conservative vision of goverance would operate..

    I'm saying that it has been a demonstration project for what happens when people who adhere to a small-government-conservative vision of governance take over the government.

    I'm saying that, just as the Bolsheviks didn't eliminate the state and had over power to the workers councils when they came to power, the small-government-conservatives didn't go about doing what they'd preached, either.

    This isn't so much an argument about how libertopian ideals would work in practice, as an argument about how those small government ideals cannot be implemented.

    In other words, when communists and free-market capitalists say "TRUE XXXXXXXXXXX has never been tried," they're both right. Pure Marxism and pure Capitalism have never been tried. And they never will be, because they cannot ever actually be the foundation of an operational political system; they're too at odds with human nature.

  • ||

    I'd hoped that joe, who by now should be able to differentiate between libertarians, cons and neocons

    He still thinks were all crypto-Republicans and I imagine he always will. (And he wonders why we call him partisan all the time...)

    Not Democrat =/ = Republican.

  • ||

    Citizen Nothing,

    Oopsie. If you'd care to take a whack at what I wrote, that would be cool.



    You know, at this point, it's probably time for people to start getting it through their heads that it isn't the best idea, when encountering something I write that doesn't completely jibe with what you think, to assume that I'm babbling in ignorance and don't really have a point that reflects some sort of informed, coherent idea.

    I could probably provide a better working- and philosophical definition of libertarianism than you, Citizen Nothing, and I could certainly do a better job of fitting into the history of political conservatism. Seriously, condescending to me? Bad idea.

  • thoreau||

    I'm saying that it has been a demonstration project for what happens when people who adhere to a small-government-conservative vision of governance take over the government.

    Well, the most corrupt people in government probably do share some of our critiques, but I'm not sure that they share our vision of what to do in response.

    Yes, I know, there's a danger of going into "We just haven't seen REAL libertarianism yet" territory. But I'd be more worried about that path if the reins of power had been assumed by people who actually talked the talk and failed. Republicans have always talked out of both sides of their mouth on libertarianism. "I want smaller government, detention without trial, free markets, free pills for old folks, a foreign policy that isn't global cop, an invasion of Iraq, respect for individual liberty, and laws to crack down on teh gay."

    The analogy with all the "We just haven't tried real communism" folks would be more valid if we put a Ron Paul in charge and then he did the same old shit. Mind you, I'm not saying we should implement that scenario just to rigorously prove your point, but I am saying that we haven't seen the failure of some true believers because these guys have always been quite open about not believing. This is a different type of failure.

  • ||

    Ah, joe. Did I hurt your feelings?

  • ||

    Fess up. It was the TallDave crack that really got to you, wasn't it?

  • ||

    There's no way that somebody who believes it isn't important for, say, FEMA to provide effective relief to people during a disaster could conclude that he can therefore use the department as a cronyist dumping ground. No way, the only possible outcome from that belief is a principled effort to whittle down government.



    Luckily, the far-seeing, clear-minded Democrats are immune to this. None of them would ever make their brother attorney general, or nominate their wife to oversee health care policy. Or go to war to distract people from political scandals.

    And Bush's cronyism could only be attributable to his small-government conservatism. Couldn't be his Jacksonian tendencies, nosirree.

    And the leap from "Bush appoints cronies because of his 'small government conservatism'" to "small government conservatives appoint cronies" is a rather large one. Especially given that "politicians appoint cronies" is a constant.

  • ||

    thoreau,

    How does "we need to keep the army and security services to prevent the counter-revolutionaries from retaking power" differ in any meaningful way from "we need to pass Medicaire Part D to keep the Democrats from retaking power?"

    It isn't just shallow corruption and power-lust that leads revolutionary movements to adopt their adversaries' methods.

  • ||

    Aw, CN, did I strain your intellect?

    I'd revert to talking about feelings in your place, too. You obviously can't keep pace with me in the realm of ideas.

  • ||

    grylliade,

    Why, exactly, did you think that pointing out the universality of the problem I describe as universal is a rebuttal to what I wrote?

  • ||

    So, I'm hearing that being anti-war doesn't work because those who are in power are more consumed with power than they are with ending war, and the claim that "we need a bigger majority" is but a way to gain more power rather than to accomplish the goal for which they were elected.
    I do not think that this scenerio means that an end to war is not a worthy goal to try to acheive, nor do I take it to mean that people don't really want the war to end, nor do I take it to mean that, because being anti-war leads to more corruption, that we should therefore be pro-war.

  • ||

    yeah, grylliade...and they'd never be so close-minded as to persecute people who live on religious compounds. And Democrats (unlike those big bad small government conservatives) would never say, massively violate civil liberties by interning an entire ethnicity of people.

    I'm saying that it has been a demonstration project for what happens when people who adhere to a small-government-conservative vision of governance take over the government.

    Ha ha...'cause governance would be SO much better if people who really believed in Big Government were in charge.

    joe, are you really contending that FEMA (as a particular example) failed because the so-called "small-government Republicans in the Bush Administration" just didn't take their mission seriously enough?

    Your hackery has caused your descent into madness.

  • thoreau||

    joe-

    The hiring of incompetent cronies is something that has happened under numerous leaders professing all sorts of ideologies in numerous countries. Even if we say (for the sake of argument) that recent US history has shown more incompetent cronies hired by one party by another, I'm not sure ideology is the best explanation.

  • ||

    Actually, I should have called joe the Other Matt of the left. That really would have got him going.

  • ||

    I guess I made an unanswerable point about the Repblicans and small government conservatism, because the only argument anyone can come up with is "yeah, well, the Democrats..."

    It would be nice if people could consider ideas apart from their own partisan preferences, but that's becoming more and more rare.

    joe, are you really contending that FEMA (as a particular example) failed because the so-called "small-government Republicans in the Bush Administration" just didn't take their mission seriously enough?

    Nope. I've made an actual argument. I don't care to explain it to you again.

    It's too bad. Maybe the quality of thought will pick up after the election.

  • ||

    The analogy with all the "We just haven't tried real communism" folks would be more valid if we put a Ron Paul in charge and then he did the same old shit.

    To which the communism folks would respond with something exactly the same, only with Trotsky's name in place of Ron Paul's. The fact that it's more palatable to us with free marketeers doesn't make it any less of a fallacy.

    yeah, grylliade...and they'd never be so close-minded as to persecute people who live on religious compounds. And Democrats (unlike those big bad small government conservatives) would never say, massively violate civil liberties by interning an entire ethnicity of people.

    Gotta say, AR, I really think you're arguing with the joe in your head, here. From my reading, he's saying that everyone, regardless of who they are, will use these powers against people who they don't like if given half a chance. Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Anarcho-Syndacalists, whoever. From that perspective, it's crazy to just advocate for the rollback of laws and regulations so that people can be free, because they're just going to use that freedom to subjugate each other. As was (arguably) demonstrated by the behaviors of the Republican party when they took over the reins of government. If you think it's a fault inherent to human nature to exercise power whenever and wherever possible, laws and regulations to keep people from doing just exactly that start to seem like not just a good thing, but the only thing that can maintain freedom on any long-term basis.

    Standard disclaimers about this not necessarily representative of all my deeply held opinions.

  • Nigel Watt||

    I'm not saying that Bush's presidency has been a demonstration project for how the affirmative, small-government-conservative vision of goverance would operate..

    I'm saying that it has been a demonstration project for what happens when people who adhere to a small-government-conservative vision of governance take over the government.

    Wow. You are a fucking retard.

  • ||

    the only thing that can maintain freedom on any long-term basis.

    should have read "the only thing that can maintain any sort of freedom on a long-term basis." Small distinction, but an important one.

  • ||

    thoreau,

    I think it would be best to say that ideology allows corruption, rather than causes it. I mean, there is no "corruptionist" ideology.

    Different ideologies are going to have different weaknesses that encourage or allow corruption. It isn't anything within small government conservatism that directs people to use government agencies as dumping grounds; it's human nature.

    For various reasons, small government conservative politics allows and encourages this behavior, but you're right that it doesn't cause it. Still, political movements, if they wish to be practicable, useful, effective governing philosophies, need to consider their unintended consequences just as much as their articulated goals. The "Sweet!" reaction you describe is such an unintended consequence.

  • thoreau||

    Shem-

    No, I'm not here to defend any true believers who did the same shit once they got power. Rather, I'm suggesting that we see the failure of somebody other than a true believer.

    I'm quite willing to believe that a true believer would do the same shit, but I don't think we have a good case study of a true believer libertarian in power (at least not in recent US history).


    joe-

    I didn't say "But, but, the Democrats!" I stipulated for the sake of argument that there might be differences between the recent performances of the two parties. However, I wonder if ideology is the best explanation for the differences, as opposed to, say, differences between individual leaders or differences between the coalitions from which they recruit.

  • ||

    "It would be nice if people could consider ideas apart from their own partisan preferences, but that's becoming more and more rare."
    HaHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    (joe is just straight-out trolling now, isn't he?)

  • ||

    I guess I made an unanswerable point about the Repblicans and small government conservatism, because the only argument anyone can come up with is "yeah, well, the Democrats..."

    You don't actually have a position, do you? I didn't make a "yeah, well, the Democrats" argument. I made an argument based on a real-world scenerio where I demonstrated that the failure of people who claim to hold a certain value to act on that value does not speak against the value, nor does it speak for the alternative to that value.

  • ||

    Nigel can't tell the difference between people and ideas.

    That's ok, a lot of people can't. It's very common for people to decide that having people who profess an ideology come to power is the same thing as basing the operations of government around that ideology.

    So common that you can even find people who conceive of themselves as serious thinkers who can't recognize that distinction, even when it's repeatedly explained to them.

    Right, Nigel?

  • thoreau||

    FWIW, my prediction is that a failure of libertarian true believers in power would be far more nightmarish than the Bush years. The Bushies don't really believe in all that much, so as long as they can grab the goodies and go "Bwah ha ha ha ha!" from their surveillance bunkers while torturing a handful of scary foreigners, they're good to go.

    Libertarian true believers would want purges of any and all statist.

    We haven't had that shit yet. Which means we really haven't seen REAL libertarianism yet.

  • ||

    thoreau,

    joe-

    I didn't say "But, but, the Democrats!"


    No, you didn't. I wrote that about several other commenters.

    I wrote an actual reply to you, and to grylliade, because you two put forward actual ideas.

  • thoreau||

    We're cross-posting a lot, hence all this confusion.

    In regards to what you're about to post while I'm writing this, you're a poopie-head. Once I find out what you posted, I'll explain why.

    :)

  • ||

    It would be nice if people could consider ideas apart from their own partisan preferences, but that's becoming more and more rare.

    Yeah, it really would be nice, wouldn't it?

    From my reading, he's saying that everyone, regardless of who they are, will use these powers against people who they don't like if given half a chance.

    Shem, that's not what he;s saying at all. He's saying (since he won't deign to come down off of the mountain and defend himself, I can't be wrong speaking for him) that small-government conservative rhetoric begets bad, cronyist governance. Which is a crock of shit.

    I'm not justifying Bush's abuse of power by saying "LULZ the DemocRATs do it too! LOLOLOL...", I'm saying the fact that you get completely committed "true believers" to Progressive Government perpetuating the same abuses of power means there's no justification in claiming that small-government rhetoric is somehow special in and of itself.

    joe's argument is basically "arguing against government is what creates bad government. If we just had the right people..."

  • Liberty Lover||

    I read Anrig's article and thought, "what is that guy talking about?"

    Did I miss the millions of people dying in the streets from not being able to get medical care because their Health Savings Accounts were depleted? No, very few were permitted to be created by politicians.

    Did I miss the billions of dollars of wealth lost because our Social Security was transferred to private accounts and invested in the stock market? No, the S&P 500 doubled in value from 2002 to 2007 and we did not have the freedom to invest those payroll taxes.

  • Matt Welch||

    If I can register an analogical disagreement with joe -- Both capitalism and Marxism/communism have been tried, and capitalism was the one that worked. What we're arguing over here is the comparatively marginal effects and policies and politics of increasingly marginalized if still-powerful major political parties.

    Are small-government types more likely to be corrupt? I don't see any evidence on that. To cite an anecdotal example -- since that's all anyone's bringing to this party -- Brad Smith was a small-government type running the FEC, and as far as I can reckon (which ain't far) he's about the furthest thing from corrupt I can imagine.

    Speaking closer to home, the Reason Foundation public policy side is very specifically a *good* government operation, assisting chiefly state and local governments to improve the delivery of services largely through privatization and other market-based solutions. These are exactly the types of people who get stoked when government works *well*, not when bureaucrats indulge in croynism. In fact, they'd make the argument that the smaller the government, the less the possibility of cronyism in the first place.

    And, as my post indicated but joe glided over, to describe the Bush administration as deregulatory in rhetoric or practice is not, as far as I can see, accurate. Compassionate Conservatism wasn't about cutting the Dept. of Education, it was about expanding it.

  • Episiarch||

    Libertarian true believers would want purges of any and all statist.

    We haven't had that shit yet. Which means we really haven't seen REAL libertarianism yet.


    You're first, buddy. For implying that real libertarianism would purge, we must purge you.

  • ||

    Ha ha ha ha.

    Shem, that's not what he;s saying at all. He's saying (since he won't deign to come down off of the mountain and defend himself, I can't be wrong speaking for him) that small-government conservative rhetoric begets bad, cronyist governance. Which is a crock of shit. 2:54

    joe | August 4, 2008, 2:48pm | #

    thoreau,

    I think it would be best to say that ideology allows corruption, rather than causes it. I mean, there is no "corruptionist" ideology.

    Different ideologies are going to have different weaknesses that encourage or allow corruption. It isn't anything within small government conservatism that directs people to use government agencies as dumping grounds; it's human nature.

    For various reasons, small government conservative politics allows and encourages this behavior, but you're right that it doesn't cause it. Still, political movements, if they wish to be practicable, useful, effective governing philosophies, need to consider their unintended consequences just as much as their articulated goals. The "Sweet!" reaction you describe is such an unintended consequence.
    2:48

    Ha ha.

  • ||

    Matt Welch,

    Both capitalism and Marxism/communism have been tried, and capitalism was the one that worked.

    I can buy that, but the post and most of the comments have taken a different position; that the ideology in question hasn't been tried, that small-government-conservatism/free-market capitalism is a distinct ideology and means of governing, different in kind from the capitalistic government of the Bush administration and other "socialistic" post-FDR American governance.

    Are small-government types more likely to be corrupt? I'd say no, they are equally likely to be corrupt as anyone else. This isn't about the virtue of individuals, putting "the right people" in charge.

  • ||

    'm saying that it has been a demonstration project for what happens when people who adhere to a small-government-conservative vision of governance take over the government.

    I wonder how you square that with this:

    It isn't anything within small government conservatism that directs people to use government agencies as dumping grounds; it's human nature.

    So, joe, if it's human nature to abuse government agencies, why are you singling out small-government conservatism again? AFAICT, you're agreeing with the libertarian critique that excessive government power lends itself to abuse.

    t small-government-conservatism/free-market capitalism is a distinct ideology and means of governing, different in kind from the capitalistic government of the Bush administration and other "socialistic" post-FDR American governance.

    Are you saying that this argument is false? That the type of governance advocated by small-government types is NOT different in kind to the governance of the Bush Administration?

  • pfjo||

    Let's not forget that the left is almost hillariously paranoid and that no matter their successes, they will always think of themselves as heroic underdogs.

    GWB wasn't an adherent to small-government principles, he was an adherent to Nixonian republicanism. Small-government conservatism is effectively dead in the mainstream and it's been dead for more than forty years. We're working to revive it, not basking in its successes...

  • ||

    "...because you two put forward actual ideas."

    Back at 10:55 I was legitimately interested in joe's input and observations on how the left could conflate, in error or by design, George W. with anything remotely resembling limited government. I actually thought he'd have something interesting to say on the subject which was the topic of the original post.
    Instead he chose to (oh so subtly) hijack the thread (while blaming it on other posters) -- which was quite possibly a big (and successful) troll.
    So now I'm just here for the laughs.

  • ||

    TAO,

    I wonder how you square that with this: Very easily - by distinguishing between "directs" and "allows," as I explained above. Small government conservatism leaves a hole a mile wide that corruption can drive through; it hands corrupt people a ready-made excuse that they can tell themselves, and others, to justify their actions.

    So, joe, if it's human nature to abuse government agencies, why are you singling out small-government conservatism again? Because that was the topic of the post, and the topic of the thread. Everyone else "singled out" small government conservatism as their subject, too, on this thread. Guess why?

    Are you saying that this argument is false? That the type of governance advocated by small-government types is NOT different in kind to the governance of the Bush Administration? I'd say the relationship is comparable to that which exists between Marx and Lennin. The roadmap was supposed to lead somewhere else, but that darn human nature got in the way.

  • Matt Welch||

    I can buy that, but the post and most of the comments have taken a different position; that the ideology in question hasn't been tried

    I don't think that's an accurate representation of my post, which was about the last decade of Republican politics.

  • Guy Montag||

    I don't think that's an accurate representation of my post . . .

    Oh yea, you are the new guy aren't you?

    :)

  • ||

    I'd say the relationship is comparable to that which exists between Marx and Lennin. The roadmap was supposed to lead somewhere else, but that darn human nature got in the way.

    How circular. Small-government conservatism, while advocating for less government, in fact has a "hole" in it that allows for cronyism and corruption. The only way to cut down on cronyism is to advocate for less government...an ideology that has a hole in it and leads to...

  • thoreau||

    I'm not sure that Bush can be characterized as an outgrowth of the small government branch of conservatism, joe. Yes, self-described small government conservatives have supported him, but I think that says something about their willingness to support whoever the GOP nominates, regardless of which faction or strand within the GOP he might come from.

    Bush himself is a product of other forces in the GOP. Libertarian-leaning conservatives/conservative-leaning libertarians are responsible for supporting the products of the party, but they aren't responsible for creating the products of the party. That's an important distinction when you look for what can or can't be salvaged from the libertarian-GOP alliance. I think the ideas that libertarians brought to the table still have a chance (although obviously any ideas will be dangerous if wielded by the hands of true believers) but the partisan allegiance (and willing to bend over and take just about anything from The Party) will have to go.

  • ||

    Greg Anrig:

    President Bush has followed this playbook more closely than any previous president, including Reagan

    What nonsense! The Federal Register, the book that records all federal regulatory activity actually shrank under Reagan. Also, discretionary spending actually saw real cuts during the Reagan years. And the rate of growth of total federal spending slowed down as well.

    Under Bush, spending has grown at s record-breaking pace. Discretionary spending even more than under any Democrat.

  • ||

    Joe,
    I understand wanting to avoid the cliche But if you're just trying to say "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." then just say it.

  • ||

    There are lots of small-government Republicans. Unfortunately, that set doesn't include too many elected Republicans. There is a serious disconnect between the GOP leadership and the GOP rank and file. The only thing keeping the party together is the constant fear mongering and patriot-pandering.

  • MJ||

    "I'm not saying that Bush's presidency has been a demonstration project for how the affirmative, small-government-conservative vision of goverance would operate..

    I'm saying that it has been a demonstration project for what happens when people who adhere to a small-government-conservative vision of governance take over the government."-joe

    joe, Bush did not say he was a small government conservative, he did not run in 2000 as a small government conservative. He ran as a Third Way politician from the right. He was running almost as much against the Gingrich Congress as he was against Gore. I remember this quite distinctly as I was quite annoyed by the tone of his campaign at the time. You cannot say that we are complaining that "small government has never been tried", Bush said he was a "compassionate" conservative , not a small government one.

    While it is true Bush's politics are certainly closer to small government theory than Gore or Kerry's or Obama's would or could be, Bush deliberately deemphasized ideology. My personal theory of politics is that political movements are held together by a ratio of ideology to patronage. When a movement is strongly ideological there is less patronage and correspondingly, less corruption. A weakly ideological movement is more held together by patronage, and therefore tends to be more corrupt. Bush's political strategy has always deemphasized the small government ideology that was the foundation of the GOP through the '80's and '90's, because of the growing sense among the GOP establishment that small government politics was unpopular.

    Bush and now McCain have been moving away from libertarian ideology because they genuinely think that appealing to libertarians is not a winning strategy. I hope they are wrong, but whichever way this presidetial election goes, it is unlikely to disabuse the GOP establishment of that notion.

  • Rick Barton\'s award winning n||

    The evidence shows that the reality is opposite of Anrig's ideology serving thesis. After the last election, polls showed that the voters punished the GOP primarily for two transgressions. One was the war. The other was the voter's perception of the Republican abandonment of their fealty to the principles of small government.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement