At least since the election of St. Ronald Reagan, self-styled conservatives have repeatedly revealed themselves to be the biggest frauds or most delusional suckers in American politics. Conservatives ostensibly believe in limited government and individuals who are smart and moral enough to use voluntary associations and free markets to meet the needs of all God’s children. But under Reagan and, more recently, George W. Bush and a Republican Congress that spent like LBJ on a bourbon-fueled bender, they cheered an immense increase not just in federal outlays and borrowing but also in centralization of power in Washington. The “FDR Democrat” Reagan saved entitlements for the old and the relatively wealthy by jacking up payroll taxes on the young and relatively poor. Bush and his congressional playmates created No Child Left Behind, the Medicare prescription-drug plan, the Transportation Security Administration and at least two wars that can only be reckoned tragic wastes of blood and treasure.
The current crisis in the conservative movement is embodied in a GOP presidential-primary season in which the two front runners used to support the health care mandate that is supposedly the ultimate sign of President Obama’s third-world socialist tendencies. Conservatives never really believed in shrinking the size and scope of government, at least not when they were running the show. That’s why we’re $15 trillion in debt as a country and poised to re-elect a President whose stimulus was an utter failure by his own predictions, whose extrajudicial killings of American citizens are justified by Bush Administration dictates, whose health care plan has managed to increase premiums even before being put into practice and whose bailout of GM has created the Terri Schiavo of car companies, a living corpse that will never again rise from its deathbed.
The next President needs to provide stability in an unstable world by actually authoring and pushing through a budget that betrays at least a passing acquaintanceship with reality. Since 1950 and regardless of all attempts to jack it up or drive it down, average federal revenue from all sources has been around 18% of GDP. Reducing spending quickly and permanently to that level would provide a basic framework for deciding not just how much government we can pay for but also what sorts of programs should be trimmed or killed altogether. Knowing that the feds were not about to start bold new programs we can’t afford or invade new countries or transform whole industries would allow Americans to start planning for a future in which we might have not just a stake but a say.
Gillespie is the editor in chief of Reason.com and Reason.tv. The views expressed are solely his own.
(MORE: The Conservative Identity Crisis)