Conservatives ? Big Government Too


It has been clear for a while that the liberal-tarian alliance isn't going anywhere fast even though fantasies that some day, one day, it'll be fully consummated simply won't die down. But now Frank Luntz, the conservative pollster, has a piece in the Washington Post that suggests that the conserva-tarian alliance might be on its way to an annulment too. Luntz lists five myths about conservative voters, the top one being that they no longer – if they ever did—give a bird's do-do about small government. He notes:

They may have rallied around President Ronald Reagan's call for smaller government three decades ago — but it's not the 1980s anymore. Today, conservatives don't want a reduced government so much as one that works better and wastes less.

In a poll we completed among self-identified conservatives just before the 2010 elections, "efficient" and "effective" government clearly beat "less" and "smaller" government. For conservatives, this debate is less about size than about results, along with a demand that elected officials demonstrate accountability and respect for the taxpayer, regardless of whether they're spending $1 million or $1 trillion. They are rallying behind the budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) not simply because it cuts the size of government, but because it cultivates accountability.

It used to be that conservatives supported smaller government on theoretical grounds: The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen; government should only do for people what they truly cannot do for themselves; government isn't the solution, it is the problem. You've heard such comments from conservatives, and they're the mantra of the tea party movement. They're still part of conservative orthodoxy — which is why Republican candidates invoke them — but the underlying conservative belief system is shifting.

In keeping with this sentiment, conservative voters don't want Big Government entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security dismantled. Writers Luntz:

Take Florida, a key swing state full of conservative seniors. According to an AARP poll there last year, 70 percent of them oppose cuts to Medicare. They want the program strengthened, not dismantled. They know Medicare needs reform, but they want changes to be effective and reasonable.

But if a decade of ruinous wars, kleptocratic bailouts, and profligate and useless economic stimulus packages by Big Government won't shake conservative faith in Big Government, then what will?

Maybe libertarians are just falling down on the job and can't find a way to effectively communicate the failures of Big Government. Or Americans have just become too fond of their EITC and Social Security checks to be seriously moved by cute Remy videos. In short, a la Greece, there are too many of us on the government dole and too few left to question it.

If there is a silver lining to Luntz' findings, it is that even though conservatives don't distrust Big Government, they still trust themselves more. Hence, when it comes to Medicare – the greatest entitlement program on the planet, they want patient-centric solutions to extend its solvency. He notes:

Conservatives believe in such simple principles as personal choice and greater competition, and they are more confident than liberals in people's ability to make the right decisions. For example, 78 percent agree with the statement: "Increasing patient choice in Medicare will help save Medicare from bankruptcy. When patients can shop for better care .?.?. it will force insurance companies to compete against each other, which lowers costs and increases care.

This is consistent with the finding of the recent Reason-Rupe poll that Americans want more control over their own health care dollars with 65% of them saying that Medicare should hand them the money that it currently spends on their behalf so that they can purchase their own private health plan, compared to 24 percent who don't.