Political Hay

Right Kick

Think about it: The Clinton government was more frugal than the current one. For this the right had to kick the left’s derriere?

By 12.14.03

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By all accounts, the right has done it. We finally kicked the left's ass.

The jury -- or, more specifically, the electorate -- will render the final verdict late next year. If Bush delivers the head of the Democrat nominee on a platter and manages to keep the House and Senate zoologically elephantine, then the Democrats are looking forward to decades of loserdom. Franklin Delano Roosevelt in reverse.

As the matter now stands, the GOP is the current (even if not quite semi-permanent) party of power -- not just majority, but come-to-the-mountain dominance.

In last Monday's Opinion Journal, James Taranto pointed out the lead indicators: The left is increasingly whiny, irrelevant, and self-righteous. "Democrats and liberals are beginning to sound like a beleaguered minority," he wrote, pointing to knee-jerk, small-fry positions on deficit spending, media bias, judicial activism and more.

Taranto's piece echoed David Brooks' excellent analysis in the New York Times:

[W]ith the success of the Medicare reform bill ? the G.O.P. behaved as a majority party in full. The Republicans used the powers of government to entrench their own dominance. They used their control of the federal budget to create a new entitlement, to woo new allies and service a key constituency group, the elderly.

From now on, as Tony Blankley observed in The Washington Times, if you work at an interest group and you want to know what's going on with your legislation, you have to go to the Republicans. The Democrats don't even know the state of play.

And what is the state of play? It's not what many voters thought, that's for dang sure.

If the reader care hearken back to the early days of the so-called Republican Revolution, nearly a decade ago, ambitious talk circled through the Capitol air that, with the GOP in power, obsolete and stupid bureaucracies such as the Commerce Department would be shot betwixt the eyes and mounted on the trophy wall along with the Department of Ed and other useless institutions, like the DNC. But even with the Democrats on the run and contemplating mass hara-kiri right after the '94 election -- when pundits and professional tongue-snappers figured the GOP would thrive in Washington with such strength and vigor that we'd never be able to scrape all the elephant poop off our wingtips -- it didn't matter. Leviathan swelled with Republican pork and grew more every year.

Don't misunderstand: The victory scenario was both right and wrong. We still ended up with poop on our shoes, but it smelled shockingly wrong.

The confusion was simple. Ideas and politics are only bed partners when convenient. Unfortunately, people in power find things like spending restrictions and an ideological support for limited government to be bothersome.

After jazzing voters with soul-stirring talk of going Edward Scissorhands on the hedges of government, Republican voters discovered that revolution was just that -- talk. As soon as the pachyderms reached the top of the hill they began making concessions, to Clinton and the big-spenders and pork hogs in their own party. This was not the early positioning of a regime intent on cutting government eventually; it was the game-playing of people intent on holding on to power regardless of what was done with it.

The Republicans were atop the heap, and they weren't about to let principles get in the way of staying there.

No better example exists than that from former GOP Congressman Tom Coburn's experience with House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), and then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.), during a meeting in which Coburn urged his colleagues to hold the line on federal spending. Writes Coburn in his memoir, Breach of Trust, "Lott looked at me, rested his chin on his hand, and said in his Mississippi baritone drawl, 'Well, I've got an election coming up in 2000. After that we can have good government.'"

We're still waiting, Trent.

The result of such "after that" thinking is -- under GOP control, the party of limited government -- federal spending is increasing at a ludicrous rate. According to an analysis by the Heritage Foundation, 2003 marked "the first time since World War II that federal spending has topped $20,000 per household." Worse, "the 7.6 percent average annual growth over the past two years more than doubled the 3.4 percent average annual growth from 1993 to 2001." Think of that: The Clinton government was more frugal than Bush's. And this isn't just war on terror spending.

Now, we've got prescription drug care for seniors. This foot in the socialized medicine door, this stitch in our financial side is going to cost some $2 trillion over the next 25 years, counting only immediate costs. It'll be worse. With government, it always is. And remember: Your dog isn't paying the bill. You, Joe Taxpayer, are.

This renders the supposedly conservative triumph of Bush's tax cuts meaningless. While he's putting money in one pocket, he's taking it out of the other. And it's for the worst of reasons. Bush is doing it to buy off the old vote. Piffle with good government. "I've got an election coming up in 2004. After that we can have good government."

So in the triumph of politics over ideas in the GOP (some would say this happened long ago), it's not about smaller government. It's about the right people in power. It's not about prudent spending. It's about locking down voter blocs to stay in control. Thus the crowning moment in the Republican rise to glory is just proof they shouldn't have it.

Conservatives always trusted Republicans with power (or came close to it) because of the assumption that their principles would rein in abuse. Our bad. In the end, who cares that we kicked the left's ass? In doing so, we just became a pain in our own.

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About the Author

Joel J. Miller is the author of The Revolutionary Paul Revere and vice president of editorial and acquisitions for the Thomas Nelson nonfiction group. Contact him at JoelJMiller.com.