Thursday, December 11, 2003

Bush Republicanism = Roosevelt Democratism?

By Donald Sensing

It’s not an improvement -why I am not endorsing Bush for 2004

It may come as a shock to some readers to learn that I am not a straight-party voter. I have voted for candidates of both major parties in elections past. There have been quite a few Republican candidates that I voted for only very reluctantly, and only because their opponents were even less tolerable, in my opinion.

I recall that Tip O’Neill, former Dem Speaker of the House, years ago observed that if the Democratic party existed in a parliamentary system it would be five parties, not one. I would guess that today it would be four, at most, because Democratic conservatives are almost all gone. It seems universally acknowledged that the Democratic party has, since Tip’s time, veered sharply leftward. The pseudo-centrism of the Clinton years didn’t sink in. (I say "preudo-centrism" because only a little of his centrist rhetoric actually found its way into public policy.)

But what has happened to the Republican party? If the sorta-centrism of the Clinton years has gone a-glimmering, the Reagan Revolution is dead and buried. The Republican party under G. W. Bush today bears a much greater resemblance to the Democrats under F. D. Roosevelt than it does to any previous Republican administration.

I say this state of affairs is not an improvement not because I excoriate Roosevelt or his administration’s record. Like any other administration, it has its successes and failures; it’s legacy probably springs more from the fact that FDR was elected four times, keeping his programs alive much longer than they might have lived had he stopped at two terms.

Whatever FDR’s faults or virtues, there’s no denying that he was a big-government activist. In fact, "big-government activist" is redundant; by its very nature, big government must be activist, else it would not have become big to begin with.

More than anything else, big-government activism is the New Deal’s legacy, and IMO, has come to define the governing philosophy of both parties today. The rising tide of big government has swamped us, held only temporarily at bay by the levees of the Reagan years. (And not really even then, since non-defense spending rose during the Reagan administration.)

Because the present-day Republicans and Democrats are both big-government activists, they have a foundational philosophy that is the same:

America is a problem to be fixed, and Americans are a people to be managed.
A couple of days ago, Michael Barone wrote,
Many conservatives are complaining that George W. Bush is a big-government conservative--or not a conservative at all. They complain about the Medicare prescription drug law he and the House and Senate Republican leadership pushed through, the first major expansion of Medicare since 1965. They call him a big spender, noting that discretionary spending has been rising more rapidly than under Bill Clinton. They complain that he pushed through the first education bill giving the federal government a role in setting standards. They complain about the farm bill he signed in 2002 and the energy bill he championed this year. ...

Bush has redefined conservatism. It is now not the process of cutting government and devolving powers; it is the process of installing choice and accountability into government even at the cost of allowing it to grow. ...
This is not a good thing, although Barone thinks it is. What Bush has done is fed raw meat into the red maw of big-government activism. Big-government activism is definitionally power hungry. Big-government activism confiscates political power from the people by regulation and taxation; its appetites for both are near unlimited. Yes, I know that Bush pushed through some serious tax cuts, and I wrote on this site that unlike his predecessors, he actually cut, rather than redistributed, the tax burden. But be not deceived: NFL linemen are small when they are babies, and we see today only the infancy of Bush’s brand of big-government activism. Inevitably, its hunger will grow.

A friend of mine emigrated here from Romania after Ceaucescu’s regime fell. He told me the other day that Americans are over-regulated. Think about that; a man coming from a communist country believes that Americans are over-regulated. It chills.

A long time ago Steven Den Beste observed in an essay, "The job of bureaucrats is to regulate, and left to themselves, they will regulate everything they can." Celebrated author Robert Heinlein wrote, "In any advanced society, ‘civil servant’ is a euphemism for ‘civil master.’" Both quotes are not exact, but they’re pretty close. And they’re both exactly right. Big government is itself apolitical. It cares not whose party is in power. It simply continues to grow. Its nourishment is the people’s money. Its excrement is more and more regulations and laws. Like the Terminator, "that’s what it does, that’s all it does."

I do not believe Bush’s domestic policies are in the best interests of our long-term freedom. I do not think that Bush’s domestic legacy will, in the long run, be good for the country.

Hence I cannot urge anyone to vote for Bush in 2004.

Which is not to say that I endorse any of the Democrats running for president; they are more strident big-government activists than Bush, and won’t protect us from terrorism to boot. So I feel caught between the devil and the deep blue sea.

I predict that the Bush administration will be seen by freedom-wishing Americans a generation or two hence as the hinge on the cell door locking up our freedom. When my children are my age, they will not be free in any recognizably traditional American meaning of the word. I’d tell them to emigrate, but there’s nowhere left to go. I am left with nauseating near-conviction that I am a member of the last generation in the history of the world that is minimally truly free.

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