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You criticize Bush’s Ownership Society as “big government by another name, providing only the faintest illusion of choice.” I agree, but could an argument be made, however, that the illusion of choice is the first step in conditioning people to accept actual choice, especially when faced with the realities of our modern entitlement state/culture?
Sager: Despite my somewhat extended critique of how Bush’s Ownership Society has gone down in flames, I actually think it’s a powerful political formulation and could be the basis of a small-government revival in the GOP. No Child Left Behind is something of a joke, but an “ownership” approach to education, such as vouchers, would be great cause for the next Republican presidential candidate to take up. Libertarians and social conservatives largely agree with it, and it’s a perfect way to reach out to black and Latino voters, who are the ones who currently take the brunt of our monopoly public-school system. Likewise, private Social Security accounts may not be quite the libertarian ideal, but they’re better than the current system and get people used to the idea that they can and should have control over their own retirement.
As the budgetary crisis looms ever larger, the national debt grows and massive spending increases eat up whatever Laffer curve benefits there were from Bush’s tax cuts, do you worry those who advocate fiscal restraint and lower taxes will end up taking the blame rather than profligate spenders if/when the economy ever truly goes south? Could tax-cut-and-spend Republicans conceivably discredit fiscal conservatism by only practicing one half of it?
Sager: I think that’s a definite possibility. The bigger problem in the immediate political future is that the Bush administration and the GOP Congress have essentially destroyed the Republican Party’s claim on the mantle of fiscal responsibility for a generation. If the Democrats want to go to voters with the message that they’d do a better job balancing the budget and controlling spending, the voters might just believe them. Now, while the idea of the Democrats as the party of small government is a bit laughable, what exactly can the Republicans say? They’re sort of left without a leg to stand on.
Considering all the criticism you level at the GOP political structure and big government collaborationists within the conservative grassroots, do you worry The Elephant in the Room will be tarred as divisive?
Sager: I don’t care if I’m called every name in the book and then a few more if it makes conservatives wake up and take stock of where their party is going. I don’t think most conservatives want the party George W. Bush has left them with, even if they like him personally and think he’s been a strong leader in the War on Terror. There’s a big difference between having animosity toward the president and not liking where he’s led the party. We’ve made a wrong turn. But in the next two years we have a chance to find a new way forward.
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Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?