January 27, 2004


David Frum writes:

Twelve months ago, the support for President Bush among conservatives was rock-solid: I mean, Reagan 1984 solid. Today, that support is still more solid than not – but just enough softer that if I were a Bush political adviser, I’d be concerned.

And with good reason. As admirable as Bush has been in fighting the war on terror, his federal spending record would embarrass a Kennedy:

Since President Bush took office, the federal government’s domestic civilian work force has increased by more than 79,000 jobs, nearly a 5 percent increase. And the number of government workers paid at least $130,000 annually has tripled.

Much of the increase came with the creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security two years ago. But the nation’s war on terrorism does not account for all of the rise. The Department of Health and Human Services, for example, has added 1,445 employees since President Clinton left office.

“We are seeing a general growth in the size of government. That is just a fact,” said Bob Moffit, former deputy assistant health secretary during the Reagan administration and now a scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “And the increases did not all go to Homeland Security. The rise in federal discretionary spending, frankly, has been breathtaking.”

Andrew Sullivan gets angry mail every time he points out these elemental truths. I don’t know why; Bush, for all of his qualities -- he’s still a mile in front of every Democrat candidate, who’d spend even more -- is clearly no friend of Reagan-style governmental minimalism. Bush lied! Small government died!

UPDATE. Reason’s Jonathan Rauch has more.

Posted by Tim Blair at January 27, 2004 09:36 PM

There must be a lot of authoritarian conservatives like me who have given up on the prospect of rational spending by governments of any stripe. Like me they likely have decided that the best restraint on the profligates is divided power. Like me they may hold their noses and vote for ANY Democratic candidate hoping for a choking gridlock.

Posted by: Theodopoulos Pherecydes at January 27, 2004 at 11:54 PM


Points well taken, however, it appears you're assuming the fight against terrorism is over. Not a moot point by a longshot.

I'm not even remotely willing to let ANY Democrat be at the helm of our foreign policy. Foreign policy choking gridlock sends a bad international message.

I'm reminded of the the phrase, "Be careful what you ask for . . ."

Posted by: joe at January 28, 2004 at 12:21 AM

"but just enough softer that if"

Is it me or does someone think the always over-rated Frumlet had too many schapps with Perle before writing that horrible turn of phrase.

Posted by: matt at January 28, 2004 at 12:24 AM

Quite a few people laughed at the phrase "compassionate conservative" during the 2000 election. I would just say that once again Bush has done exactly what he said he would.
I think he's overspending, but thats something we can effect. I'll trade a primary fight for republicans in Congress for the whole not dying in a terrorist attack thing, and three possible Supreme Court nominations.

It's also a little late in the game for democrats to claim the fiscal responsibility mantle.

Posted by: Monkeyboy at January 28, 2004 at 12:42 AM

You could vote for a Dem Congress. The only problem with that is they would probably sell Iraq down the river. (e.g. that vote to turn $10 billion of the $87 billion into a loan was party-line.)

Posted by: scott h. at January 28, 2004 at 01:41 AM

As much as I'm concerned about Bush's spending habits, and as much as I am a Reagan admirer (I was one of those Reagan Democrats), let's not forget that deficits reached somewhere near 6.5 % of GDP back in the 80s; now they're closer to 4%.

Posted by: John Scott at January 28, 2004 at 06:24 AM

Bush ... is clearly no friend of Reagan-style governmental minimalism.

Neither was Reagan.

For all his talk, Federal spending as a percentage of GDP actually rose under Reagan.

The only post-war President who managed to reduce federal expenditure by any significant amount was ... Bill Clinton.

Posted by: Mork at January 28, 2004 at 08:07 AM

TB quotes David Frum on Bush's collapse in poll support, but he erroneously attributes this political fall to popular opposition to Bush federal spending boom.
This is a rightwing fantasy.
Most voters don't mind a little bit of socialism, in fact they tend to support universal health care. They don't like key Bush policies, the tax cuts, the deficit & immigration. ABC polls indicate that Bush’s Popularity is Narrowly Based, relying for popularity on foreign-military, rather than domestic-economy, issues.

it’s a 45-51 percent split on taxes; and more disapprove than approve of his work on Medicare, drug benefits and especially health insurance (55 percent disapprove), immigration issues (56 percent disapprove) and the deficit (58 percent disapprove).

Frum says Bush's political advisors should be concerned, and TB says
with good reason. As admirable as Bush has been in fighting the war on terror, his federal spending record would embarrass a Kennedy

In fact, Frum then goes on to attribute the Bush poll slump to...Bush's Open Borders policy:
But the policy that they most passionately dislike is the Bush immigration plan. It arises everywhere – California of course, but throughout the rest of the country too.

Steve Sailer makes the same point. And the facts bear this out. ABC reports that most people oppose Bush's defacto Amnesty program for illegal immigrants:
Most Americans oppose President Bush's proposal to offer legal status to illegal immigrants — and if it does happen, two-thirds favor a limited-duration program, not an open-ended one.

It's all very well to keep solidarity with Bush on the War on Terrorism, but lets not delude ourselves that people are up in arms about a bit of pork-barrelling. Mostly it's only right-wing policy wonks who get upset about that. Voters support Border Protection for the same reason they support anti-terrorism: sovereignty.

Posted by: Jack Strocchi at January 28, 2004 at 08:55 AM

Bush and Rove are simply employing the same strategy that they used during his 1998 re-election for governor, which was to govern closer to the center in the latter part of his first term under the idea that in the end, the majority of conservatives are going to go to the polls in November and vote for him over the alternative.

In 1998, the grumbling was over school finance reform in Texas and several other issues where Bush was considered "too cosy" with Democratic Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, House Speaker Pete Laney and other Dems (who admittedly were far more conservative than the national Democrats). The conservative wing of the Texas Republican Party knew they couldn't beat Bush, but put up primary challengers to all the candidates in the down-ballot races (Lt. Gov., Ag Commissioner, Comptroller, Attorney General) he supported. All of Bush's candidates won in the primary and in the general election (where Bush won by a 74-25 percent margin over Clinton buddy Garry Mauro) and two of those, Rick Perry and John Cornyn, are now the state's governor and junior U.S. Senator respectively.

The same dynamic is working here -- Bush moved towards the center on several issues, like Medicare and again including school finance reform, and angered the conservative wing of his party. But how many are angry enough to stay at home or vote for someone else like John Kerry, John Edwards or Howard Dean in November? Odds are not that many, while at the same time, his actions take away several domestic issues from whoever the Democratic candidate is.

With no heir apparent for the 2008 presidential nomination on the Republican side, the divide between GOP moderates and conservatives over the "soul of the party" could get bloody four years from now, which may also be good news for Hillary Clinton. But it's hard to see how with a President Dean or President Kerry staring them in the face, conservative Republicans are going to sit this election out.

Posted by: John at January 28, 2004 at 11:06 AM

As Mork points out neither Reagan nor Bush were/are fiscal conservatives. The only difference is that the Bushites do not try to hide the fact they are spending like crazy whilst the Reaganites tried to pretend it was all a miscalculation on taxes.

Actually Reagan wasn't actually a social conservative either since He obviously approved of both divorce and abortion ( see Governor's record).

In actual fact Kenedy was a fiscal frugal compared with the spendthrifts such as Reagan and Bush.

The only question to ask is will there be a president in the future that is as skilled and courageous as Bil Clinton was to balance the budget again. I doubt it.

Posted by: Homer Paxton at January 28, 2004 at 12:34 PM

Bill Clinton skilled and courageous? Bwahahahahahahahahahaha!

Clinton achieved his sleight of hand by ruthlessly downsizing the military (all reductions of Federal personnel on his watch came from the DoD) and being the beneficiary of a enormous windfall of actual tax revenue due to the dotcom boom and the reduction of capital gains tax rates, which he opposed.

And Tim, nothing he does embarrasses a Kennedy.

Posted by: Michael Lonie at January 28, 2004 at 03:23 PM

Michael Lonie is only half-right. It is true that Clinton benefitted from a large, dot-com spurred, increase in wind-fall capital gains tax receipts. Also the 1994 Republican Congress, very prudently and frugally, placed caps on federal expenditure.

But Clinton was a fiscal hero. He very ably repaired the long-run US fiscal economy, by raising tax-rates on the weathy, keeping a lid on discretionary spending, reforming welfare entitlements and constraining federal employment growth.

A significant portion of extra US federal expenditure has been brought on by circumstances beyond his immediate control, HomeLand security anti-terrorism expenditure and unemployment insurance entitlements.

But it is a right-wing myth to blame the spending blow-out and high budget deficit on Bush's new Educationa and Medicare entitlememts and discretionary spending pork-barelling. These policies and programs account for, at most, $100 billion pa extra expenditure - small beer in the context of the US economy.

The vast majority of red-ink spilled on Bush'a watch has been in pursuit of ideologically contentious tax-cuts for the wealthy and war-making on the disarmed. He has no one to blame for this but himself and the ideologues who egged him on (I include myself in that sorry bunch).

Posted by: Jack Strocchi at January 28, 2004 at 07:00 PM

his federal spending record would embarrass a Kennedy

Which Kennedy? Wasn't there a member of the Kennedy clan who ran successfully for governor on a small government platform?

Basically, I see three contributors to Washington being in the red.

Domestic spending: Bill Clinton probably had better luck keeping it under control due to the "Nixon in China" effect: republicans are hardly likely to criticise a democrat president for reducing domestic spending, whereas the reverse wouldn't be true. Another thing is that if Bush were to successfully reduce domestic spending, it'd be portrayed as "guns before butter".

Defense and security spending: Conservatives aren't likely to criticise this increase, far-left-wingers will criticise it, and the Democrats will criticise it if they feel they can get away with it.

Tax cut: Team Bush comprimised with the democrats over the size of the cut. Conservatives would support the cut, liberals would oppose the cut.

Clinton achieved his sleight of hand by ruthlessly downsizing the military

The republicans were complicit in this. Did we see moves before September 11 to restore the number of military personnel? Wasn't Rumsfeld a supporter of a small invasion force in Iraq?

Posted by: Andjam at January 28, 2004 at 10:41 PM