Ah, this column by former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson fills one's heart with cheer. After all, Gerson is a former Bush speechwriter.
My low point with the Republican Party came in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In attempting to deliver benefits to victims, the administration found men and women who had never had a bank account; families entirely disconnected from the mainstream economy. A problem rooted in generations of governmentally enforced oppression—slavery and segregation—demanded an active response from government to encourage economic empowerment and social mobility.
Yet the response of many Republicans was to use the disaster as an excuse for cutting government spending, particularly the Medicare prescription-drug benefit for seniors. At a post-Katrina meeting with White House officials, one conservative think-tank sage urged: "The president needs to give up something he wants. Why not the AIDS program for Africa?
What follows is a completely incoherent argument for and against government spending. Those cruel conservatives who believed the almost impossibly complex reconstruction of a city was more imporant than a $1.2 Medicare benefit (that hadn't gone into effect yet) don't understand "that the health of society is determined by the health of institutions." But, uh, most of Bush's spending has "gone to a range of unexpected security necessities" and other discretionary spending is "far below President Clinton's double-digit growth in his final year." So big spending is bad, and Bush doesn't do it—except when it's good, and he does. Got it?
Gerson goes on to inform us that foolish libertarians need to stop idealizing Reagan because
[T]he Reagan reality is more admirable than the myth. He wisely chose what was historically necessary—large defense increases and tax reductions—over what was politically unachievable: a massive rollback of government.
But didn't he do this because he faced a Democratic House and (for two years) Senate? For four years, Bush didn't have to contend with either of those things. This is why we hoped Bush would roll back government, or entitlement, or something besides a few taxes. What we didn't expect was Michael Gerson whispering "spend!" into the POTUS's ear, coquettishly slipping huge spending packages under his pillow.