Alexander's Column

The Party of Reagan?

By Mark Alexander · Sep. 5, 2003

What factors led to the collapse of the Roman Empire? Was it an economic crisis resultant from social class warfare? Was it an overreach of administration and an outgrowth of resources? Was it a decay of that culture's moral fiber? It was, most likely, a combination of all these factors. While these questions continue to be debated among scholars, one thing is certain. In the words of philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

The fate of our own republic is becoming increasingly clear – and it bears a remarkable resemblance to that of Rome.

What are the critical threats to our liberty and national security? Externally, we face a threat of global terrorism, a liquid front against Jihadistan – that borderless nation of Islamic extremists with global reach, inhabited by al-Qa'ida and other Islamists who target the U.S. – a front which was codified on 9/11. Despite our political will to contain this tangible external threat, we face even greater threats internally, which escalate incrementally and encroach bit-by-bit on our liberty and national security.

What are these internal threats? A legislature appropriating debt for a near-endless expansion of central government social welfare (the better to ensure their perpetual incumbency); an executive rationalizing that expansion in the name of political expediency and “compassion” rather than using the bully-pulpit to warn of this encroachment (see the “Great Communicator” at – http://Reagan2020.com); a judiciary predisposed to eviscerate the Constitution rather than enforce it; and an electorate so dumbed-down by the Left's institutions of re-education (government schools and the Leftmedia) that the people can no longer muster a majority of right-thinking voters to reverse the trend of social decay.

President George Bush has received high marks from The Federalist for his actions as Commander-in-Chief in defense of our nation – the first and most critical job of the executive. But his domestic-policy performance has been dismal. As we have noted previously, it is not enough to continue rationalizing the Bush administration's decidedly left-of-center domestic policy positions as being necessitated by pragmatic political calculations.

The Federalist rightly criticized Bill Clinton for faking Right (co-opting Republican ideas) and running Left (true to his ideology). George Bush, on the other hand, has faked Left (co-opting Democrat ideas) but has only strolled back to the Center, not the Right – leaving one to wonder, is he only faking?

Indeed, this week a shot was fired across the administration's bow by the editorial page of the Manchester Union Leader (or was it a ricochet from the pages of this e-journal?): “Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie… said in no uncertain terms that the days of Reaganesque Republican railings against the expansion of federal government are over. No longer does the Republican Party stand for shrinking the federal government, for scaling back its encroachment into the lives of Americans, or for carrying the banner of federalism into the political battles of the day. … The party's unofficial but clear message to conservatives is: Where else are you going to go?”

For his part, Mr. Gillespie responded: “The party of George Bush is very much the party of Ronald Reagan – the party of lower taxes, less regulation, strong national security and, yes, fiscal responsibility. … I worked with Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey in their effort to eliminate the federal Department of Education but these efforts were defeated. … [R]egarding Medicare, our choices are to maintain a health program for seniors where government makes decisions and delivers the care or a market-oriented approach where patients make choices and private providers deliver the care. … I believe that conservatives and millions of other Americans are Republicans because they support our positive agenda and share our beliefs.” (Perhaps Mr. Gillespie should consult the 2000 Republican Party Platform on which George Bush ran – also at Reagan2000.com)

“And millions of other Americans” besides conservatives? Ah, all those drawn in by the aforementioned “pragmatic political calculations,” and Republican efforts to outspend Democrats on their own turf. The problem is, Democrats can't be outspent.

The Federalist's political analysts have a good grasp on long-term macro-political strategy: attract enough people across the political aisle to give the party a political majority, re-indoctrinate them over a decade or two, then work toward weaning them off of, then dismantling Leftist government welfare programs. But this strategy is very risky – tantamount to convincing addicts they should leave the Heroin Party for the Methadone Party…. In the end, they're still addicts.

In his campaign for the presidency, then-Gov. Bush articulated clearly his intent to appoint “constitutional constructionists” to the federal judiciary, and he has not wavered in that determination (though his silence in regard to Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore's constructionist effort was deafening). But what the nation needs now is a constitutional constructionist in the executive branch – one who will uphold his oath to “defend the Constitution” and be its most vociferous advocate on issues like spending cuts and then containment, if not elimination, of unconstitutional domestic social programs. Instead, President Bush has renewed or expanded many such programs and has taken the art of deficit spending to new heights.

To his credit, he has passed some minor temporary tax reductions in the last three years (which he wants to make permanent), but he has advocated no corresponding reductions in central government spending, which has grown by more than $500 billion in three years and is now growing faster than at any time since LBJ launched his infamous Great Society welfare state.

Why? Because Mr. Bush, at the urging of his political handlers, has flip-flopped on discretionary spending issues like agriculture subsidies, road projects, extension of unemployment insurance, federalization of tens of thousands of airport-security personnel and a $10-billion tax break for non-taxpayers. He joined the likes of Ted Kennedy and greatly expanded the budget and influence of the Department of Education. He is now proposing an enormous nondiscretionary budget expansion of the bankrupt Medicare program, which will likely cost many times its estimated $400-billion price tag over the next decade if it tracks with past growth in health-care entitlement programs. (Improper payments under Medicare's fee-for-service system totaled an estimated $13.3 billion in 2002 alone.)

Though Mr. Bush ran on a platform of limited government in 2000, the federal payroll has increased by more than 1 million employees under his watch. While some of this expansion is connected with national security, much of the increase occurred in dubious social welfare and regulatory agencies.

The central government's colossal 8% spending increase from 2001 to 2002 is even steeper than the Clinton administration's spending spree of 1993-94, when the comparable climb was 4.8%. The budget deficit for 2003 is $401 billion, and the Congressional Budget Office released a revised budget-deficit estimate of $480 billion for fiscal year 2004 – more than double the CBO prediction of a $200-billion deficit issued in March of '03 – and predicts $1.5 trillion in red ink over the next decade.

The White House and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill earlier this year did agree to cap discretionary spending at $785 billion. Most of the remainder of the $2.2-trillion fiscal 2004 budget is consumed with so-called “mandatory programs,” such as Social Security and Medicare. The current budget includes $90 billion in corporate welfare. (By comparison, Operation Iraqi Freedom will costs taxpayers about $35 billion this year.)

Supply-side economics – the fiscal philosophy resurrected by Ronald Reagan which contends that reductions in taxation and government spending will vitalize spending in the consumer market, elevate GDP, and ultimately raise tax revenues at lower rates of taxation – works well only if reduced tax revenues are accompanied by comparable reductions in government spending.

The Leftist mantra to raise taxes notwithstanding, revenue problems, at root, are always spending problems. Given the levels of deficit spending we currently face, and no efforts to enact commensurate spending restraints, the Republicans' long-term macro-political gambit is high-risk.

Quote of the week…

“Where did this expanding deficit come from? A sluggish economy, tax relief and necessary defense spending played a part. But one cannot overlook the largest domestic spending spree since the Great Society. Mandatory spending will reach 11.1% of gross domestic product this year, its highest level ever. … The only alternative to tax increases is spending restraint. … Now is not the time for the largest expansion of government since the Great Society.” –Heritage Foundation economic analyst Brian Riedl

On cross-examination…

“In the old days, miners brought canaries down into the tunnels to detect methane. The birds were more sensitive to the deadly gas and worked as an early warning system. When they died, it was time to get out. For conservatives, Sen. Edward Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, is like a canary. When he starts supporting their initiatives, they should get out…. Therefore, it is significant when Mr. Kennedy supports a Republican initiative, as he has done in the case of the prescription drug bill working its way through Congress.” –Bruce Bartlett

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