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What Unites Politicians: Big Government

By Richard Reeves

NEW YORK -- You have to love the hypocrisy of the Republicans running for president, nine characters in search of Ronald Reagan.

That's why Fred Thompson, who thinks he's the next best thing, jumped in among the lemmings. After all, he is tall and has worked as an actor. What more can you ask? A lot, actually, but gut instinct and careful analysis both give you the confusing feeling that none of these guys can win.

That is why Thompson wanted to be one of them. Entering stage right, he waited only five paragraphs in his announcement speech before lifting, almost word-for-word, an old Reagan line: "A government that is big enough to do everything for us is powerful enough to do anything to us."

Reagan, as candidate and president, said that often and a bit better: "A government big enough to give you everything you want is also a government big enough to take everything you've got."

Thompson is used to working from a screenplay, and this one is a remake of "The Reagan Story." But it is, of course, all made up, all fictional.

This is a quote from me: "All politicians want big government; the only difference between liberals and conservatives is what they want the government to do."

(In fairness, I might add a footnote: "With the possible exception of Ron Paul.")

The 40th president was one of the great conservative rhetoricians of modern times, but in practice he expanded the reach of government as far as any liberal could have done in eight years in the White House. Reagan got to the Oval Office by beating up on "tax-and-spend Democrats." Then he invented "borrow-and-spend Republicans."

The 43rd president, George W. Bush, is an example. He is a big-government guy, borrowing against the future as fast as he can to build up the military and fund faith-based initiatives across the federal spectrum -- cutting taxes all the while. That's the Republican script, no matter who reads it or what they said in the past.

In fact, Bush, who inherited the $86 billion surplus produced by President Clinton's last budget, has increased the federal budget deficit by $3.25 trillion. Bush's last (proposed) budget would scale back 141 domestic programs, including more than 40 education programs. Defense and Homeland Security spending, however, would increase by 23 percent.

And that defense and security spending does not include the financing of our wars and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. That spending is now running at almost $l50 billion a year.

Like Reagan, who never even proposed a balanced budget in his eight years of power, Bush claims he is trying to balance spending and revenues. He now says his goal of balance will be achieved in 2012. If that happened -- and it won't -- the heavy lifting would have to be done by the man or woman, Republican or Democrat, elected next year.

As for Thompson, it is hard to understand what the former senator really believes about the big government he wants to run. In his announcement speech he contradicts himself, saying:

"When I went to the Senate, I wanted to balance the budget, cut taxes, reform welfare, require Congress to live under the laws that they had imposed on others, and I wanted to begin the modernizing of our military ...

"Now these problems have only grown worse since that time. ... On our present course, deficit financing will saddle future generations with enormous taxes, jeopardize our economy and endanger our retirement programs. ... This path is economically unsustainable."

That sounds like he wants to rescue the nation from his party and his party's leader -- because all the terrible things he's talking about happened while George Bush and other Republicans were running the country. In the end, Thompson is telling us that, like Bush, he is a big-government conservative spending his children's and grandchildren's money.

Copyright 2007 Universal Press Syndicate

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