An Opening for a Small-Government Populism?
Two things helped Newt Gingrich Republicans make an anti-government case in the early 1990’s: 1) Big government was associated with cultural liberalism; 2) The deficit–popularized as an issue by Ross Perot–associated big government with Washington irresponsibility. Over the course of the decade, Bill Clinton shrewdly worked to separate government from cultural liberalism by signing welfare reform and pushing various family-friendly initiatives, and the budget was balanced. This took a lot of the political charge out of anti-big government case. I wonder if the excesses of the bailouts and the stimulus package will make big government politically vulnerable in a way it hasn’t been in more than a decade by, 1) Again associating government spending with Washington irresponsibility through the truly dramatic new numbers for the deficit and the debt; 2) Intertwining government with Wall Street/corporate America in a way that makes it possible for a Main Street conservatism to run against both. There may be point here at which a Mike Huckabee populism and a Steve Forbes free-market economics can meet. There’s usually a reaction to every action in American politics, and while the Democrats and Obama have basically a free hand to expand government in the current environment, you can already feel the backlash building.