To say that President George W. Bush has been spending money like a drunken sailor is an insult to drunken sailors. After all, when land-starved seamen go on their binges, they spend only their own money, not yours and mine. With very few exceptions -- such as the income tax cuts he improbably muscled through and his recent vague gesture toward loosening immigration laws -- Bush has done nothing to further the "free minds and free markets" that Reason champions.
His willingness to slap tariffs on lumber and steel demonstrated that he's no principled free-trader. His Medicare "reform" shows he's ready, willing, and able to buy votes with the best (that is, worst) of them. His proposed budget for fiscal year 2005 would increase defense spending by over 8 percent, nondefense discretionary spending by 6 percent, and entitlement spending by almost 5 percent. Sadly, such Texas-sized hikes are hardly surprising: Through his first three fiscal years, Bush oversaw a total inflation-adjusted spending increase of about 16 percent.
Fiscal profligacy is bad enough, especially coming from a candidate who claimed he would cut government spending (and, lest we forget, institute a "humble" foreign policy). But Bush has not only kicked out the jams on taxpayer-funded treats; he has morphed into, in Andrew Sullivan's apt term, a "nanny-in-chief."
In this year's State of the Union address -- a milestone in mind-numbing fluff -- Bush spent more time talking about testing school kids for drugs and the evils of steroids than he did about Social Security privatization. Among his great hopes for a second term are expanding the National Endowment for the Arts to bring culture to rubes in small-town America and putting the government in the business of marriage counseling. This last brain fart comes even as he steadfastly works to deny gays and lesbians the ability to get hitched in the first place.
There's worse news: Bush is running against a gaggle of Democrats who range from the pathetic (e.g., Dennis Kucinich, who got even fewer dates than votes on the campaign trail) to the desperate (Howard Dean, who went from touting himself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal to announcing he would "reregulate" the American economy) to the vacuous (John Edwards, whose "upbeat" message betrays the fact that he has no message). The donkey party front-runner as I write this, John Kerry, has distinguished himself mostly by performing bizarre shows of manliness on the hustings and by running away from his votes in favor of NAFTA, the USA PATRIOT Act, the No Child Left Behind Act, and using force in Iraq.
We haven't elected a majority president since 1988, and given the major-party choices we usually see, that's no shocker. The eventual winner this fall may or may not actually pull more than half of all votes cast, but this much is certain: It would be a far more interesting -- and satisfying -- political season if we had the opportunity to vote for the dream candidate we stitch together for you in "Building the Perfect Candidate" (page 45).