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Rhetoric and Reality


It is of course possible to doubt the significance of establishing a long-term commitment to ending tyrannies–if it’s so long term, and has no or little practical relevance to the policies of the day, what does it matter? I have some sympathy for this view myself. On the other hand, consider Reagan’s denunciation of the “evil empire” and refusal to accede to permanent co-existence. Saying these things obviously did not commit Reagan to immediate military action to overthrow the Soviet regime. Yet his rhetoric was not, for that reason, unimportant.

That said, I lean toward being moderately critical of the speech. I’ll have more to say about its foreign-policy dimension in the next issue of NR. Here I’ll just say a bit about the domestic portion–and return to the vexed question of whether Bush is a “big government conservative.” If the president were to succeed in reducing Social Security benefits by $10-11 trillion in present-value terms, that would be a pretty substantial victory for smaller government. Personal accounts for Social Security, and personal ownership of health insurance, are not “Bismarckian” policies. A characterization of Bush’s politics that ignores those policies is missing a lot about him and his administration.

Bush’s isn’t going to lead a crusade to slash the federal budget and close down agencies and departments. If he tried, he would fail. But he could (note that I’m saying “could,” not “will”) nonetheless do a lot to shrink government over the long run.


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