Mark Tapscott at The Copy Desk today takes on Bill Kristol’s odd paean to the oxymoron that is and always will be Big Government Conservativism. Unlike a lot of people who were conservatives even before Reagan was elected, I always have been and remain a big fan of Kristol’s. I think he is a good man who overall has contributed mightily to the conservative cause. But for the reasons very well explained by Tapscott today, Kristol is wrong as wrong can be in his diagnosis. This is worth a whole essay, not just a blog post, but the short response is that Kristol, like almost every other member of the media elite, utterly misrepresents the success of “small government conservatism” in the few times it has been tried — and misrepresents, or more precisely does an evasive maneuver, when talking about what happened to the “Gingrich Revolution” in 1995 and 1996. As I was there right in the middle of it, successfully helping shape the public message in the winter and spring of 1995 for what turned into $50 billion of actual (not projected) savings in just two years, this chaps me, no end.
When we actually governed as careful stewards of the public fisc, cut domestic discretionary spending, reformed welfare, and balanced the budget, we won. When we abandoned fiscal conservativism, we started losing. The Medicare fight Kristol mentions is a red herring: Yes, of course we lost the Medicare battle in the winter of 1995 and 1996, but that is because we muddied our message, let tactics get ahead of (and utterly undermine) our strategy, chose the wrong ground to fight on, and played a funeral dirge when we were supposed to be blowing a trumpet (or, at times, when we were supposed to be playing no music at all but merely guiding a discussion in patient tones while doing a lot of listening).
As I said, a more extensive explanation awaits a full-length column, but for now, let me throw in my lot with Tapscott, and ask the often wise Mr. Kristol to reconsider.