The Era of Big Government Isn't Over

NDN tentatively peeked its head out of the trench, intrepidly scuttled across ideological lines, and went to a seminar at CATO today. I'd like to write about why the right wing have such nice offices, and the oddity of a libertarian think tank handing out free sandwiches, rather than letting the market prepare lunch. But, as we were notionally there went to see Stephen Slivinski discuss his new book, Buck Wild: How Republicans Broke the Bank and Became the Party of Big Government, i'd better write about that. Alongside Slivinski, Robert Novack played the vastly more famous cameo role. Both were withering about Bush, highlighting the Farm (2002), Medicare (2003) and Highways (2005) Acts as particular offenders of reckless fiscal spending. Amidst the general tone of libertarian dispair, the best the chair could say what that voters did have a choice. It just that it was between tax-and-spend Democrats and borrow-and-spend Republicans.

The gist of the two presentations was - whisper it quietly - that with the glorious, exhalted exceptions of Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater, Republicans don't really believe in cutting Government spending after all. The most striking comment of all came from Novack discussing the political shift following Clinton's 1996 victory. His basic point was that Republicans were faced with a choice, with their '94 agenda stalled and Dole's recent defeat still close at hand. Did they concentrate on building a machine to getting back into office, and ditch their class of '94 principles? Or vice-versa? Karl Rove chose the machine. He, Bush and Dick "Reagan proved deficits don't matter" Cheney went on to win handsomely twice as big government conservatives. One way to interpret this would be to say they did what it took to win. But might another be that that Clinton, so often maligned as leaving little political legacy, rescued the reputation of the state sufficiently to banish talk of starving the beast?