Jay Reding.com

Winning, But Losing

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.

14 responses to “Winning, But Losing”

  1. Erica says:

    If you can’t legislate virtue, why this love affair with the Bible beaters? Face it, your party is going to either have to cut loose the crazies or cut loose the small government folks. You can’t have a small government and panty-sniff at the same time.

  2. Seth says:

    Yeah but these same people who want smaller government want social security the way it is, good schools, lower medical costs and in general more services. That is, people think they want a much smaller government, until you spell out exactly what that means. I challenge these ‘small government’ conservatives to start cutting programs and we’ll see how many Americans really are for a bare-bones government with no services.

  3. Mark says:

    I can’t imagine a true “party of smaller government” ever emerging with the current political alignment. Seth touches upon this dynamic, but it’s actually quite a bit more complex and reaches down to government at the state and local level of “red states” where conservative Democrats and conservative Republicans alike campaign on endless tax-cutting and passing the buck of needed state and community services to their man/woman in Congress. The consequence: mayors, legislators and Governors in red states get to continue running on tax-cutting platforms while their powerful Republican Congresscritter commits blue-state taxpayers to butter their bread for them vis-a-vis ever-more-lucrative earmarks, federal highway funds, and crop subsidies, among many other things.

    The very people crying for smaller government are the most government-dependent people in the country. If you want smaller government, vote Democrat. The President is far more likely to veto pork-laden appropriations bills that come from a Democratic Congress than those that come from a Republican Congress.

  4. Jay Reding says:

    Yeah but these same people who want smaller government want social security the way it is, good schools, lower medical costs and in general more services.

    Ah, and there’s the reason why liberals just don’t get it.

    Government doesn’t produce any of those things. The more bureaucracy involved in schools, the worse they get. The more bureaucracy introduced into the healthcare system, the higher the costs. Social Security is doomed to fail because it doesn’t match the demographics of the 21st Century and a government institution is notoriously resistant to change. And what “services” does the average voter want? The stuff that the average voter wants in terms of services doesn’t cost $2 trillion a year.

    Trying to say that government makes things cheaper, better, or more efficient has never been true. Government is the antithesis of those things.

    Republican Congresscritter commits blue-state taxpayers to butter their bread for them vis-a-vis ever-more-lucrative earmarks, federal highway funds, and crop subsidies, among many other things.

    Please keep that rhetoric up – it’ll ensure that no Democrat ever wins a Presidential election again…

  5. Mark says:

    “Please keep that rhetoric up – it’ll ensure that no Democrat ever wins a Presidential election again… ”

    As long as big-government conservatives ladel out pork earmarks to their “small government” loving constituency, does it really matter? At least as it pertains to the spending restraint you allegedly cherish?

  6. Seth says:

    Jay–
    When you think about the crowning acheivements of the last 100 years by America, it’s tough to think of one that didn’t involve government. Highways, the internet, civil rights, clean air and water standards.

    The average voter wants government grants so their kids can go to college free or cheaply. They want flood insurance, cheap gas and food, a post office that delivers to every address in America. They want low-income loans to buy their first home. They want cheap and clean energy. They want to go to parks, go hunting and fishing. They want police in their neighborhoods. They want to be able to fly cheaply. They want to work in a safe and healthy environment.

    Government does not things the cheapest they could be–government should be concerned with striking the balance between cheap and just. What the conservatives don’t get is that while government isn’t the answer, free markets (which in conservative doublespeak means markets titled towards corporate conglomorates) aren’t the one-size-fits-all solution to everything in our society (see: Halliburton’s role with military contracting in Iraq). Neither is deregulation (see: the airline industry 30 years later).

    Speaking of more bureacracy in schools, what do you think of Tim Pawlenty’s proposal to tell schools how they have to spend their money?

  7. Seth says:

    I meant low-interest loans, not low-income

  8. Erica says:

    Didn’t we already try small government with no regulation of businesses? I seem to recall that not working out well for anybody but Carnegie and Rockefeller.

  9. Jay Reding says:

    When you think about the crowning acheivements of the last 100 years by America, it’s tough to think of one that didn’t involve government. Highways, the internet, civil rights, clean air and water standards.

    Which is exactly why liberals also fail to understand history. For example, the Internet was begun by government, but the biggest reason that it took off like it did is because government got the hell out of the way — otherwise the Internet would have been just another Minitel.

    The average voter wants government grants so their kids can go to college free or cheaply.

    I’m certainly not opposed to low-interest loans and grants because they produce a solid return on investment. However, that still doesn’t justify the strangling government we have today.

    They want flood insurance, cheap gas and food, a post office that delivers to every address in America.

    Flood insurance subsidizes the kind of dumb behavior that caused Katrina to be the disaster that it was. Why would government have an interest in subsidizing construction in places that are going to flood?

    Government raises the price of gas and food through taxation.

    The USPS is a bureaucratic dinosaur that’s rapidly getting supplanted by technological change. Besides, I though the left didn’t like monopolies? Isn’t the Post Office exactly the kind of “corporatism” the left always rails against? You have a quasi-private entity with a government-granted monopoly that can not only fix its own prices, but the prices of its competitors.

    In a generation, the USPS won’t have a reason to exist — although I’m sure we’ll all still be paying for it anyway.

    They want low-income loans to buy their first home.

    Which is really working out great. Again, is there any reason why the state has to provide those services other than centralizing that power in the hands of the select few?

    They want cheap and clean energy.

    And if government ran that, we’d all be sitting in the dark…

    They want to go to parks, go hunting and fishing.

    Which is a perfectly legitimate function of government, but one that still doesn’t require multiple billions of dollars to achieve.

    They want police in their neighborhoods.

    Which even most libertarians see is the primary function of government.

    They want to be able to fly cheaply.

    Which they can, thanks to deregulation that has allowed ticket prices to plummet to the level where everyone can fly — which wasn’t the case a few decades ago.

    They want to work in a safe and healthy environment.

    At least those who still have jobs…

    Government does not things the cheapest they could be–government should be concerned with striking the balance between cheap and just.

    Yes, government by nature spends other people’s money on other people. For the most part, it doesn’t give a damn whether the outcome is cheap or just so long as it can justify its own interests. It’s basic human nature, and it’s why government is never the most efficient or effective way of achieving a goal.

    What the conservatives don’t get is that while government isn’t the answer, free markets (which in conservative doublespeak means markets titled towards corporate conglomorates) aren’t the one-size-fits-all solution to everything in our society (see: Halliburton’s role with military contracting in Iraq).

    Does your straw man have a cowardly lion to go with it?

    Neither is deregulation (see: the airline industry 30 years later).

    Except air travel is common because of deregulation

    Of course, that ignores the biggest reason why expansive government is bad — our country was explicitly founded on a rejection of that notion. That’s why the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are founded upon principles of negative liberty. That’s why the Founders were adamant in their opposition to an expansive state. That’s why this country is successful.

    Liberalism is all about killing the goose that laid the golden egg — if people want socialism, they can move to Europe where they can watch it fail firsthand. (I wouldn’t advise taking any buses through the suburbs of Paris, however…)

    The essential flaw of liberalism is that they want to oppose concentrated economic power by concentrating economic power in the hands of the state — which never works well. Even Wal-Mart has to compete — which isn’t true when you give the state expansive economic power.

    Speaking of more bureacracy in schools, what do you think of Tim Pawlenty’s proposal to tell schools how they have to spend their money?

    You mean on students? Perish the thought! How will the teacher’s unions survive if they actually have to educate children? It will be bedlam!

  10. Mark says:

    “Speaking of more bureacracy in schools, what do you think of Tim Pawlenty’s proposal to tell schools how they have to spend their money?

    You mean on students? Perish the thought! How will the teacher’s unions survive if they actually have to educate children? It will be bedlam!”

    Doesn’t look like Pawlenty’s school proposals will be very relevant in another eight days, so maybe we don’t have to worry after all. http://www.startribune.com/587/story/777360.html

  11. truthado says:

    I think the problem with the republicans is they didn’t see anybody stopping them from engaging in business as usual. Under Clinton they faced opposition from the white house, once Bush was in office they had a greater chance of bills being passed that favored republican districts. After 9/11 and the elections of 2002 and 2004 this continued that trend, with Bush desiring a compliant congress, and congress a compliant president. The democrats were left out in the cold and couldn’t seem to get back in giving the republicans even more room to cut corners and act as they saw fit. Its only now when thigs are getting so bad that the democrats have a real chance.

    Kinda reminds me of that quote, “Power corrupts, Absolute power corrupts absolutely”…

  12. Wright says:

    I have generally favored having a 2-1 split in the three elected national offices -White House, Senate and House. That has produced at least some check on the excesses of single-party dominance. The GOP has clearly demonstrated those excesses. However, this year, as hard as it is for me to vote Republican, I cannot vote Democratic. The Dean-Pelosi-Reid gang and their surrogates have so poisoned the atmosphere with their over-the-top rhetoric that they are totally unpalatable. The Republicans are deservedly in deep trouble, but why would I jettison one bad bunch in order to get one that’s even worse? The Repubs, bad as they are, have at least gotten a few things right, but the Democrats have offered absolutely nothing but obstruction. The Democrats promise us only higher taxes and a cut-and-run in the war against the Islamic fanatics. Why on earth would I vote for that?
    There are ample reasons not to vote Republican – porkers like Lott and Stevens, RINOs like Spector and Hagel, President Bush’s non-existent veto pen, but the satisfaction of seeing them get their cumuppance comes with too high a price tag. Hold your nose and vote.

  13. Mark says:

    “The Dean-Pelosi-Reid gang and their surrogates have so poisoned the atmosphere with their over-the-top rhetoric that they are totally unpalatable.”

    Accusations of “over-the-top” rhetoric coming from the party running the kind of filthy campaign ads your guys are? That’s rich. Funny how “friend of terrorism” and “Taliban negotiator” don’t seem quite so over-the-top when coming from the mouths of your ideological ilk, while “a party of mostly white Christians” coming from the mouths of your opposition is unforgivable.

  14. Seth says:

    The bottom line is that most Americans say they want smaller government and then want all of the things I mentioned. From the government. Good luck keeping people in office that start eliminating them. I hope you try soon.

    1.) Internet–without government the internet would not exist the way it does today.
    2.) I’m glad we agree that grants and loans need to be available to college students.
    3.) We should be smarter about how we dole out flood insurance–which is why corporations (the people with the real incentive for keeping that insurance there) need to get their hands out of the cookie jar. I mean, if we build it right the first time, like countries like Japan have done when they invest in their infastructure, we’re eventually going to have insurance companies that don’t have a lot of business.
    4.) Without government subsidization of gas, you’d be paying $4-5 a gallon. Without huge government handouts, not one oil company would be willing to touch your precious ANWR project. And without government help, a drought would mean you don’t have bread anymore and you’d pay three bucks for a loaf.
    5.) I agree the Postal Service needs to be reformed. Too bad the Administration killed a Postal Reform bill this year that both the unions and the corporate mailers were behind. It would have streamlined the rate-setting process and made service more eficient. But if the Postal Service is gone and you live in a place that isn’t profitable to deliver, good luck getting the mail. But guess what: Don’t like the Postal Service? Don’t use it. It’s been decades since it got money from the Treasury and it now pays money into the Treasury. Oh, that and the Postal Service is written into the Constitution, and you cons are supposedly loathe to alter the plain words of the Constitution.
    6.) Energy–ask Californians how well deregulating energy works. Or ask Halliburton execs.
    7.) Jobs–speaking of those losing their jobs, people want public education and reintigration programs to learn new skills when Republican trade policies ship their jobs overseas.
    8.) What straw man? I named an example where private contracting and the ‘free market’ is making things less efficient and costing taxpayers more money. I can keep going if you want.
    9.) Air travel is common…unless you live in rural areas, where you have fewer options and it’s much more expensive. And then let’s count all of the airlines which have needed government handouts in the past few years to stay afloat–even though their fuel is subsidized, their runways and security are paid for, and taxpayers fund air traffic controllers.

    So you rail on government having concentrated power for a while, and then praise government having concentrated power to tell local school districts how to spend money. That’s cute. But here’s a question: If 70% has to go to the classroom, teachers would arguably benefit the most. Then why is the teachers union against the proposal?