Yesterday, William Kristol seemed to be doing some gloating over the fact that public support for the stimulus has eroded. This is the man who just this past December wrote a column titled “Small Isn’t Beautiful,” instructing us that “conservatives should think twice before charging into battle against Obama under the banner of ‘small-government conservatism.'” The column was part of a larger effort by the Brooks/Kristol/Frum brigade to portray those of us who are still commited to limiting the size of government as Neanderthals, desperately clinging to ideas whose best days have passed.
Yet by focusing on the reckless spending provisions in the stimulus bill, as well as the fact that the price tag is approaching nearly a trillion dollars, Republicans actually have the vaunted Obama messaging machine on its heels at a time when the new president is at the apex of his power.
I don’t want to overstate things. President Obama still has huge majorities in both chambers of Congress, and Democrats will end up passing some kind of bill that he can sign, allowing him to claim a victory. And I wouldn’t confuse a few polls suggesting waning support for the stimulus bill with a public outcry for a new Reaganism. But what this experience has demonstrated is that there still is a bit of a libertarian streak running through this country, and Americans are still skeptical about massive government spending. This sentiment will only grow in the coming years as the government consistently racks up trillion dollar deficts. Republicans lack credibility right now, but if they return to being consistent critics of bigger government, they’ll eventually return to power. Either way, it’s certainly too early for limited-government conservatives to roll over and cede the movement to those who argue that the only way for conservatism to move forward is to embrace bigger government while focusing on ways to make it more efficient.