Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Small Hours of Republican Imagination

The Economist's August 11 print edition's cover story is about its claim that America is turning to the left. The leader or editorial on page nine blames social conservatism, the Iraqi War and "oxymoronic trust in big government conservatism" that George W. Bush and congressional Republicans share. The Economist believes that Republican social conservatism and support for big government will lead to a new and perhaps permanent Democratic majority.

In the final paragraph of the article, the Economist makes an important point:

"most Americans distrust government strongly."

Yet, the Republicans have discarded the limited government ideology, or at least its pretense, in favor of "big government conservatism" that provides pork and cronyism to elected officials in the name of "mercifulness". The longer article on this theme on page 20 notes that the US public now says that it would prefer a Democratic president by a 24-point margin due to:

"Growing worry about income inequality combined with growing support for the social safety net. The proportion of Americans who believe that the government should help the needy even if it means greater debt has risen from 41% in 1994 to 54% today...Today only 35% align themselves with Republicans, and 50% with Democrats."

Some of the reasons include the Bush presidency and the War in Iraq. Moreover:

"Mr. Bush has also presided over the biggest expansion in government spending since his fellow Texan Lyndon Johnson...He has increased federal spending on education by about 60% and added some 7,000 pages of new government regulation. Pat Toomey, the head of the Club for Growth says the conservative base feels disgust with what appears to be a complete abandonment of limited government."

The Economist quotes Michael Gerson, a Bush speechwriter who advocates "big government conservatism". He is quoted as saying that "Anti-government conservatism turns out to be a strange kind of idealism that strangles mercy."

That a conflict concerning small versus big government exists in the Republican Party at all, and that a Bush administration official considers big government to be more merciful than limited government, confirms that the GOP has lost its way. Mr. Gerson has risen through the Republican ranks yet is unaware of the limited government traditions of the United States that specifically led to the nation's preeminence; the humane nature of limited government; and, in contrast, the nation's failure during the 1930s due to the merciless government policies of (1) the Fed, which caused the Great Depression, and (2) the New Deal, which extended it. The greatest human-caused tragedies in history, Stalin's mass starvation of kulaks; the Holocaust and Mao's mass killings are all the product of big government. It is not clear to me how an American, much less a Republican, can call himself a "conservative" in the American sense and yet advocate big government.

Ronald Reagan won on a program of limiting government, ending regulation and cutting taxes. I am not clear as to why this program was popular in 1980 and 1984 but would not be, in Mr. Gerson's view, in 2008. The Republicans' "big government conservatism" seems to be a thin excuse for cronysim, pocket lining, pork and bloat, practices with which the current administration and the Republican congress have become associated. The only way for the Republicans to resolve this association is turnover.

The most serious conclusion that I draw from the Economist's leader and article is that Republican appointees like Mr. Gerson have not been exposed to classical liberal thinking. A new day must mean Republicans who understand how freedom works, unlike Mr. Gerson. Perhaps the likes of Mr. Gerson arise from failed educational institutions that are committed to left-"liberal" brainwashing.

Big government has existed in Europe ever since Gaius Julius Ceasar declared himself dictator for life, and it has been associated with merciless oppression ever since then. The United States grew most rapidly and drew the most immigrants when it had the least government. Big government leads to economic decline and inequality. The government of India is among the most interventionist and socialist in the world, and India leads the world with respect to child starvation. In India, big government has turned out to be merciless indeed. The inequality with which Americans have been concerned in the past couple of years, and the problems with the health care system, are both due to government. With respect to income inequality the problem is the Fed; and with respect to the health care system it is due to licensure and government regulation.

There are free market solutions to current problems that would be far superior to the state-based ones that the Democrats and Republicans are touting. But they require imagination. America in general and the Republicans in particular have lost touch with the creative ideas of the founding fathers and of Adam Smith. Limited government is the most merciful of ideologies. The ideology that creates poverty and inequality, that creates suppression and intolerance, the ideology of big government that Michael Gerson advocates, is the ideology of the state, the ideology of darkness, the ideology of lack of imagination and rote solutions that ignore unintended consequences and circularities of processes.

We have reached the small hours of Republican imagination. With speech writers like Michael Gerson, the Bush administration has shown that it is ill-educated. Until the Republicans begin to awaken from their sleep, they should stay out of office.

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