Leviathan on the Right: How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution, Michael D. Tanner, Cato Institute (2007).


Republicans have traditionally favored seeking state, local, or private sector solutions to problems, while Democrats tended to favor a larger role for the federal government.  Despite considerable growth in federal programs over time, voters were at least offered a lower taxes/ less government alternative.


In recent years, elements of the Republican Party (neoconservatives, religious right, supply siders, etc.) have adopted a more expansive view of what the federal government should be doing. This goes a long way towards explaining why federal spending has grown faster (real annual growth of 4.9% per year) on George W. Bush’s watch than under any president since Lyndon B. Johnson.  Tanner decries the emergence of big-government (or compassionate) conservatism from several standpoints.


• However well meaning some of the new initiatives may be, such as a prescription drug benefit for Medicare and the “no child left behind” program, they are also wasteful if not counterproductive.  Worse, the government’s “entitlement” programs (principally Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) are unsustainable, and no efforts are being made to put these programs on a sounder footing. Some people may find Tanner’s proposals for cutting back on the goodies unpalatable, but they are specific, well supported, and deserving of careful consideration.


•The Republican Party lost Congress in 2006 at least partly due to fiscal laxity, and it will not regain traction without returning to its small government principles.  “If [the American people] come to believe that the choice is between liberal Democrats who will give them lots of things and big-government conservatives who will give them a little bit less,” says Tanner, “they will choose the liberal Democrats.”


•Although the banner of fiscal conservatism could be taken up by a third party, Tanner does not see this happening.  Even “if the Libertarian Party – or another third party – were to develop a credible small-government platform, campaign finance laws and ballot access barriers make it virtually impossible for a third party to be competitive.”


Which leaves us with these questions: Can the Republicans find themselves again? If not, who will oppose the endless and ultimately ruinous growth in government spending?

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