For the most part, I like the Weekly Standard's William Kristol, but in his latest tome on The New York Times opinion page, his tortured reasoning for conservative big government is just plain wrong. And worse, it would be a continuation of a bad policy instituted by President Bush.
Where I hate to agree with Mr. Kristol is the point that most who run on the small government mantle find that it is impossible to actually make government smaller. It is a fair and regrettably accurate point.
And, Mr. Kristol points out that the very popular and successful former governor of Florida, Jeb Bush (imagine, a popular leader with the last name Bush!) actually increased government spending 50% over population growth and inflation. But, Mr. Kristol does not give concrete example as to where that increased spending went for. And Mr. Kristol points out that Mr. Jeb Bush cut taxes, privatized government services, and led in policy reforms, especially in education.
But, it is a fatalistic view that government size is going to increase no matter what party is in power.
Take the example that Mr. Kristol gives in the prescription drug benefit to senior citizens. Mr. Kristol says that it was the right thing to do and that it is popular. I think that it remains to be seen if the senior citizens of the United States are as enamored with the prescription drug benefit as is Mr. Kristol. And now that the Democrats run the show in Washington, we shall see how they tinker with it.
Here is part of the Kristol rationale to make the big-government conservative vs. small-government conservative:
Still, there’s a difference between a conservatism that is concerned with limited and constitutional government and one that focuses on simply opposing big government.
So: If you’re a small-government conservative, you’ll tend to oppose the bailouts, period. If you more or less accept big government, you’ll be open to the government’s stepping in to save the financial system, or the auto industry. But you’ll tend to favor those policies — universal tax cuts, offering everyone a chance to refinance his mortgage, relieving auto makers of burdensome regulations — that, consistent with conservative principles, don’t reward irresponsible behavior and don’t politicize markets.
Similarly, if you’re against big government, you’ll oppose a huge public works stimulus package. If you think some government action is inevitable, you might instead point out that the most unambiguous public good is national defense. You might then suggest spending a good chunk of the stimulus on national security — directing dollars to much-needed and underfunded defense procurement rather than to fanciful green technologies, making sure funds are available for the needed expansion of the Army and Marines before rushing to create make-work civilian jobs. Obama wants to spend much of the stimulus on transportation infrastructure and schools. Fine, but lots of schools and airports seem to me to have been refurbished more recently and more generously than military bases I’ve visited.
Point by point.
I am not a big-government conservative. I think that there is a reason for that. Because, it just does not work. Increasing the size of government does not produce jobs. It does not increase tax revenue because any one that can will try tax paying avoidance. Increasing government means that people are giving up freedom. And, it is false sense of security.
Take the example of bailouts/rescues. Mr. Kristol says that bailouts/rescues are A-OK if they are tied to across-the-board tax cuts (which I favor), offering everyone a chance to refinance their mortgages (do not agree with that) and deregulate the auto industry (favor that) but then rationalizes that if they are tied to conservative principles and do not politicize the markets, it is not a bad thing. The fact that the federal government would bailout/rescue any one company and or entire industry in totally politicizing the government in the marketplace. The fact is that the government has a real hard time running itself in an efficient, profitable manner, what makes any one think that they can do so entering the financial services sector? Or the auto making sector?
I oppose a so-called stimulus package. It is warmed-over Keynesian/Roosevelt economics. And it does not and has never worked. To argue as Mr. Kristol does that the way to win the argument is to try to get more money for the defense department. The argument Mr. Kristol makes is that a stimulus package is going to happen anyway, conservatives should have some effect as to the outcome. I agree. Conservatives should oppose mindless make-work schemes that do not have a long-term outcome. Any quick fix stimulus that is proposed by President-elect Obama and the Democrat congress is not going to be for a long-term solution to real problems. It will be a payoff to labor unions and their allies.
Nobody wants to eliminate government. But, conservatives want a government that has its priorities straight. How to raise money from the broadest pool possible, not just a select few in a confiscatory manner. What said government will spend money on. Will it be cost-effective. Is there a different way to have certain programs. None of that is anywhere on Mr. Kristol's radar.
There are some thoughtful conservatives that are going to make a case that government can be smaller, leaner and more responsive to the people's needs. And that starts from the bottom up. Some of those leaders are in the House, led by Indiana congressman Mike Pence. We are seeing leadership by Alabama senator Richard Shelby who has suggested that he will filibuster the so-called Big Three American auto maker bailout/rescue.
These are leaders that do not want to just tinker with the ideas of the liberal left. They want to offer a different way. A way that can be successful if actually tried.