Saturday, January 05, 2008

Are Republicans Conservative? (Part I of III)

Part I of III

by Jeffrey Robbins


As a Republican, do you find the positions and actions of your party increasingly difficult to defend in light of the principles upon which the party claims to continue to stand for, namely, limited government, non-interventionism, and laissez-faire capitalism? Do you find yourself "compromising" your principles election after election, justifying your vote for the party favorite as an earnest effort to avoid putting the next Clinton or Gore in power? The "lesser of two evils" mantra must ring a bell. Have you heard the Republican party-line that they simply "lost their way" during their four-year period of complete control of the federal government? Have you swallowed hard to make yourself believe it? Before you continue further down the path of Republican Party apologism, you owe it to yourself to read on and see how the pieces fit together, forming a far different picture than the one you believe you see.

It is particularly difficult to change the mind of Republican voters who maintain apologist stances in defense of their Party. You have certainly tried in vain to convince a Democrat that their Party ideals are bound to decline into Socialism or worse, Tyranny one day. At some point I imagine you told them that the government has no business being involved in what their Party proposes, that taxes are too high, that spending is too much, our Federal debt is unimaginable, etc. Since I have always operated in some form from the Right, I choose my words carefully and understand how difficult it may be to believe it when I say exactly the same thing to you: Your party's actions have led to socialism, and at worst may in fact lead to outright tyranny one day.

One quote still stands out to me in relation to the difficulty encountered as we begin such an argument. Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1897 said, “It is in the nature of a man’s mind. A thing which you enjoyed and used as your own for a long time, whether property or opinion, takes root in your being and cannot be torn away without your resenting the act and trying to defend yourself, however you came by it.” I speak from experience, as it was I, a Republican supporter of George H.W. Bush in 1990, who was first approached many years ago with the same proposition: post-World War II Republicans have come to share far more with Democrats in principle and action than either Party would care to admit or have widely known. I can say from experience that indeed, the first step is denial. I denied for many years, later took on casual study, and gradually as I built the study came to the same stunning conclusion. In fact, the difference between the Parties is not meaningful. The task before you, the study, the intellectual honesty required of you the reader, is within your ability I am certain. What you must set aside, albeit temporarily, is your allegiance (psychologically and philosophically) to what you believe is truly happening in government, which for years or perhaps many decades, have been imprinted and reinforced by nearly everyone and everything around you: the high school teachers, the professors you had in college, your friends who follow politics, Fox News, ABC, your favorite newspapers, the family members who enjoy discussing ideas, - all have very likely reinforced that there are differences between Democrats and Republicans worth arguing, debating, and fighting over. To them it is this conclusion that is not debatable. But here I sit, telling you quite the opposite.

It is my very sincere hope that for the future of our country you embark on this study yourself and ask difficult questions in pursuit of truth. I am not trying to win a debate here. No tricks to win a point. My pursuit herein is the truth and I ask the same of you. I present facts and evidence and after many books and pages read, stand firm that these facts and evidence point where I say they do. At a minimum, I appeal to your desire to hear a different viewpoint, to critique, discuss, and to learn. I do so in full realization that you are at stage one, denial.

The Contract With America - We Signed, They Didn't

Recall that in 1994 a Revolution swept the United States. It was called the Republican Revolution, complete with the "Contract With America." In January 1995, the change in power swept the Republicans to control the House for the first time in 40 years (from the 1952 election to 1954). In addition to the gain of 54 seats in the House, the pickup of 8 seats in the Senate also helped them gain control of the Senate. But the Republicans weren't done. Strong gains were made in the States as well with a pickup of 12 Governorships giving the Republicans the majority of State Governorships for the first time since 1972. They also gained a total of 472 seats across all of the State Legislatures thus gaining control of 20 State Legislatures from the Democrats and holding a majority of State Legislatures for the first time in 50 years. Republican voters wanted to extend this Revolution: they wanted control of the Presidency. Only with control of both houses and the Executive Branch could real change finally be made. While William J. Clinton won the 1996 campaign, it wasn't long before the Executive Branch was won back by the Republicans in 2000 with George W. Bush at the helm.

After the 2000 election, the dream of Republicans looked to be at hand, until GOP senator Jim Jeffords changed party registration to "Independent" in June 2001. The Senate switched to Republican control after the November 2002 elections, for the first time in decades giving the Republican party control of the federal government. From 2002-2006, the Republicans maintained clear majorities in the Legislative Branch and controlled the Executive Branch. The dream had arrived in its fullest form.

The dream ended in the 2006 elections, when Democrats won both the House of Representatives (233 Democrats, 202 Republicans) and the Senate (49 Democrats, 49 Republicans, and 2 Independents caucusing with the Democrats) as well as the majority of state governorships (28-22). This event may be seen as the end of the Republican Revolution. Maybe it ended before it started. During the twelve-year Revolution of the "party of limited government," the Federal budget shot up from$1.461 Trillion (1994) to $2.6 Trillion (2006).

Let's revisit the Contract With America. One would expect the Contract created by the party of limited government to have clear Constitutional support for each provision: not so. William F. Jasper wrote of the Contract's Constitutional shortcomings just months after it was signed, in a 1995 article entitled "Gingrich's Constitutional Con": Jasper brought to light provisions such as the "Take Back Our Streets Act." The Republicans felt more Federal money should be spent on beat cops in the nations cities rather than night basketball programs. First, the Contract is silent on the Constitutional support for Federal funding for state and local law enforcement efforts. Secondly, our allegedly small government brethren opted for a new, bloated series of Federal grants to pay for more beat cops. Of course it was sold as "Republicans tough on crime, Democrats weak." And many bought it. A Republican (the Old Right) of many decades ago would have stood up and stopped the unconstitutional flow of money to begin with and by doing so, lowered your taxes. Another example from "Gingrich's Constitutional Con" is the "The National Security Restoration Act." Among other things, it would have lowered U.S. funding of U.N. "peacekeeping" missions to 25% from 32%. Again, the Contract is silent on the Constitutional authority for funding an organization with roots in people like Alger Hiss, but merely sought to placate the Republican masses by reducing (likely temporarily) the funding. Note, that even if this was heralded as a great first step, there was no language questioning the legitimacy of placing U.S. troops or U.S. law under U.N. auspices.

Even an apologist from The Cato Institute, Stephen Moore, concedes that the Contract, on many counts, was a dismal failure, in his article from June, 2004 at titled "Contract Revisited." Moore, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and president of the Club for Growth, was a staff member for former Rep. Dick Armey (R-Tex.). "It is chic these days to criticize the Contract with America and write it off as a failed revolution. That would be a misreading of history." Really? Here is Mr. Moore being a bit more honest:

"Most impressive of all, the Contract with America budget called for eliminating three whole Cabinet departments: Education, Commerce and Energy... Perhaps Republicans over-promised, but in the end, politics triumphed over good fiscal common sense. Ten years later, most of the useless programs still flourish. Here are some disappointing examples:
The Americorps program has grown 181 percent and President Bush wants to expand it further.
The Education Department budget has almost tripled since 1995.
The Goals 2000 budget has grown from $231 million to $700 million.
The wool and mohair subsidy was terminated (hooray) but then resurrected by Congress in 1997 and now spends more money than ever.
Amtrak subsidies were supposed to be phased out entirely by the year 2000. But this year the railroad asked for a $2 billion bailout and Congress is likely to grant it."

Did politics triumph over good fiscal common sense? Or perhaps, as you will see later on from Irving Kristol, was this expansion of government largesse and increased encroachment on your freedom part of the plan all along?

The Grand Old (Spending) Party

The Wall Street Journal noted the recent presidents' average annual real increases in domestic discretionary spending:

Lyndon Johnson, fiscal years 1965-69, 4.3 percent
Richard Nixon, 1970-75, 6.8 percent
Gerald Ford, 1976-77, 8.0 percent
Jimmy Carter, 1978-81, 2.0 percent
Ronald Reagan, 1982-89, 1.3 percent decrease
G.H.W. Bush, 1990-93, 4.0 percent
Bill Clinton, 1994-2001, 2.5 percent
George W. Bush, 2002-04, 8.2 percent

(see also "The Grand Old Spending Party" at the Cato Institute:

Taking a look at the list, I note the top 3 positions are occupied by Republicans. LBJ narrowly loses to Bush I for the fourth spot (That's four of five spots occupied by big government Republicans). The Heritage Foundation even chimed in on the question of the reality of spending by the Establisment parties:

"Conventional wisdom holds that non-defense discretionary spending has been cut to make room for defense spending increases. Conventional wisdom is wrong. According to OMB, non-defense discretionary outlays – adjusted for inflation – surged by 34 percent between 1999 and 2005. That is the largest six-year expansion since the 1970s. One way to compare current discretionary spending trends is by presidential administration:

Overall discretionary outlays rose 2.3 percent annually under President Clinton, compared to 9.7 percent annually under President Bush. Defense was
virtually frozen in nominal dollars under President Clinton, and has averaged 12 percent annual growth under President Bush. Non-defense discretionary
outlays rose 4 percent annually under President Clinton, versus 8 percent annually under President Bush.

Let me re-emphasize that last point: Non-defense discretionary spending has grown twice as fast under President Bush as under President Clinton. Examples of
discretionary spending increases between 2001 and 2006 include the following:

Education is up 62 percent, or 10 percent annually; International affairs is up 74 percent, or 12 percent annually; Health research and regulation is up 57
percent, or 9 percent annually; Veterans’ benefits are up 46 percent, or 8 percent annually; Science and basic research is up 40 percent, or 7 percent annually. and Overall non-defense discretionary outlays are up 46 percent, or 7.8 percent annually."

HillaryCare vs. Medicare Part D

What began as an outcry against "HillaryCare" in Republican rhetoric turned into the enactment by the same Republicans of another leg of socialized medicine in Medicare Part D (the prescription drug expansion of Medicare orchestrated by Republicans in 2003). Who would have predicted that the smaller government, capitalist, market solution-oriented Party would bring us another step toward socialized medicine when they in fact controlled all three branches? Perhaps they thought we needed another unfunded multi-trillion dollar liability.

A November 2007 study by Columbia University found that the Medicare Part D drug plan cost $32 billion in 2006, its first year of existence. The study concluded that by 2015 the cost would accumulate to $797 billion. Frank Lichtenberg, a co-author of the study, stated: "Our findings do not necessarily mean that the Medicare Part D program is economically inefficient, because there are potential long-term health care savings when people can afford to take necessary medications. However, we need to think carefully about the economic implications of this program, which the federal government will ultimately have to raise taxes to pay for." (emphasis added)

Of course the review of spending shows that it is not a phenomenon, as the Party would now have and desperately wants you to believe, of the last few Bush years. Indeed, the spending differences between Republicans and Democrats are negligible over many decades as you have seen.

Have voters for Republican candidates been able to depend on the Republican rhetoric that they represent smaller government, lower Constitutional spending, and free-market solutions? Even if we haven't been able to depend on Republicans to deliver Constitutional spending, smaller government, and lower future taxes, perhaps they have delivered in the Judiciary. In Part II of "Are Republicans Conservative?," we will explore the Supreme Court. It is the nomination of conservative Justices that many Republican voters pine for and point to in defense of their votes for, as we have learned in the preceding paragraphs, big-government Republicans.

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