Glenn Reynolds notes that Americans are still (rightly skeptical) of government, but wonders whether it’s a good thing for the Republicans or a bad thing. I’d argue that in the short term, it’s probably not a good thing, but in the long view, it’s good for both the Republican Party and the nation as a whole.
The GOP got into power on the basis of being the party that would limit the size of government. On that account, the GOP has utterly failed. The size and scope of government continues to grow, and not just in terms of national defense. Legislation like the PATRIOT Act gets all the press, but the constricting web of myriad regulations continues to bind average Americans more and more. Small business owners often become the hardest hit, while big multinational corporations have no problem hiring enough lawyers and lobbyists to get around the rules. The American people should be skeptical of government power, because it doesn’t “level the playing field” as most liberals would claim.
For the GOP to win, they have to rediscover the values that make this party what it is. The biggest criticism I have of President Bush is that he’s not a conservative in most respects. He puts far too much faith in the power of government, and that’s ultimately a dangerous thing. Bush is called a “conservative ideologue” but the reality is that he’s a “Third Way” centrist cloaked in conservative garb. “Compassionate conservatism” is a nice buzzword, and there is an interesting argument behind it, but it just doesn’t work. Compassion is not measured by state power, but by the power of the individual. You can’t produce a bureaucracy to create compassion any more than you can legislate virtue. When the state becomes the primary agent of compassion, it’s not a sign of national greatness, but a culture in which individual effort, initiative, and true compassion are sorely lacking.
Many Republicans are wondering why the Republicans should regain their majority in Congress. To be frank, if it were for the execrable nature of the opposition, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to give the GOP a good spanking. It is certainly not undeserved.
The GOP got into power by being a party that would reduce the size of government. They failed. Part of it is due to governmental momentum, but the majority of fault lies with a party that has lost sight of its own values. The American people still share the Reaganesque optimism in America as a nation and the Reaganesque skepticism of government power — in fact, that’s one of the hallmarks of American society, and it has been since the very beginning of the Republic. Those parties who go against that strain tend not to do well, and it’s sad that right now neither party is really in tune with that bedrock ideology.