After reading Bill Kristol’s column in today’s New York Times [see web briefing], I can’t help but wonder if I am in one of those science-fiction movies where you wake up in a strange alternate universes.
In Kristol’s world the Republican Revolution collapsed because the GOP tried to cut government (notably some minor Medicare cuts). President Bush, on the other hand, “seemed to learn the lesson.” Among his other successes, “he proposed and signed into law popular (and, it turned out, successful) legislation, opposed by small-government conservatives, adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare.”
Undoubtedly, in Kristol’s world, it is President Bush’s commitment to bigger, more expensive, and more intrusive government that has brought about his soaring approval ratings. Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress lost because they cut spending to the bone, abolished pork, turned down earmarks, and generally behaved like Barry Goldwater reincarnated.
There is only one way to remedy this, according to Kristol. Republicans need to support the auto-industry bailout. Republicans need to support a stimulus package, and not just wimpy tax cuts, but honest-to-God government spending. Republicans, according to Kristol, can win only by becoming, well, Democrats.
Kristol is undoubtedly right that resisting big government has been harder in practice than in theory. But that hardly means that conservatives should abandon their principles. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor political, nor popular — but one must take it simply because it is right.” The evidence suggests that reducing the size and power of the federal government would be safe, popular, and good politics. But, regardless, Republicans should stand for limited government and individual liberty simply because it is the right thing to do.
– Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of Leviathan on the Right: How Big Government Conservatism Brought down the Republican Revolution.