Rx For the Dems: Oppose Big Republican Government
Republicans used to believe that the government
was too big, that federal deficits should be illegal, that politicians
should butt out of your private concerns, and that our military
should defend the nation, not trying to make the world a better
But that was the Republican Party of old -- say,
2000. Under President Bush, they've abandoned that turf. So here's
an idea: Maybe the Democrats should occupy it.
Those positions were not a bad formula for winning
elections, as the GOP showed in the 1990s. Back then, led by Newt
Gingrich, Republicans in Congress forced President Clinton to
accept a plan to eliminate the deficit. They opposed the "humanitarian"
interventions in the Balkans. In 2000, George W. Bush beat an
opponent who he charged was "going to grow the federal government
in the largest increase since Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1965."
But the party of limited government now thinks
the sky is the limit. Under its stewardship, budget surpluses
have been washed away by a flood of red ink. As a new report from
the Cato Institute points out, the president who warned about
Al Gore's free-spending ways "has presided over the largest
overall increase in inflation-adjusted federal spending since
Lyndon B. Johnson."
The party that wanted to empower families and
block government intrusion pushed its way into the Terri Schiavo
case. After spurning nation-building in 2000, Bush has embarked
on nation-building in Iraq -- part of a high-minded mission to
spread democracy throughout the planet. The military is so overextended
that we may have to bring back the draft, which was abolished
in the name of individual freedom by a Republican president.
But if Republicans don't have any use for their
traditional policies, plenty of others do. People are not lining
up to support the president on many things. A Washington Post-ABC
News poll in March found 53 percent of Bush's citizenry thinks
the Iraq war was not worth fighting. Only 37 percent of Americans
say the administration shares their priorities on foreign policy.
Bush insists that our efforts in Iraq are spurring
democratic change elsewhere. But that's a dubious goal in middle
America. According to a recent New York Times-CBS News survey,
"Given the choice between trying to change dictatorships
to democracies, generally, or staying out of other countries'
affairs, 59 percent think the U.S. should stay out."
Once upon a time, the Democratic Party would have
endorsed active measures to promote democracy. But no more. On
the choice of spreading democracy or staying out, 78 percent of
Democrats favor staying out -- compared to only 33 percent of
The Terri Schiavo affair exposed to Americans
something else they don't like about Bush and his party. In a
recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll, 55 percent of those surveyed
said that when it comes to moral values, Republicans are "trying
to use the federal government to interfere in the private lives
of most Americans." Three out of four disapproved of Congress'
actions in the Schiavo case.
Grover Norquist, the Reaganite head of Americans
for Tax Reform, used to describe the modern conservative movement
as a "leave us alone coalition." But lately, it's morphed
into the Busybody Brigade.
Bush and his congressional allies don't want to
leave us alone, and they don't want to leave the rest of the world
alone. They favor an active, expensive government intent on imposing
their values at home and abroad, whether the recipients want them
or not. And they're willing to ask the next generation to pay
any price for that mission.
So the Democrats could counter with their own
libertarian theme: The U.S. government should mind its own business,
not anyone else's. That approach fits with many of their modern
beliefs: balancing the budget, rejecting open-ended military crusades
in favor of protecting vital interests, keeping the government
out of the bedroom and the doctor's office, and upholding personal
privacy against unwarranted government intrusions -- from the
Patriot Act to end-of-life decisions.
Conservatives may retort that the onetime keepers
of the nanny state will never be able to give up their urge to
meddle in the economy -- and they may be right. But even Democrats
no longer favor old standbys like price regulation and unlimited
entitlements. They've learned to appreciate the virtues of free
markets, and they even supported welfare reform. So they're obviously
capable of learning.
Being out of power could make them even more open
to change. If Republicans want to take over as advocates of big,
bossy, bloated government, the Democrats should be more than happy
to trade places.
This Article to a Friend