Big Government is Back, Conservatism in Decline (March 2009)
This column was first published on March 11, 2009 in UMass Media.
The Republican Party in the United States has lost all credibility. It is foolish for anyone to think that someone like Sarah Palin or Bobby Jindal will save them in 2012. To an independent observer like myself, it’s entirely clear that the Republicans have squandered their political power on minor issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, things that seem to contradict their original philosophy of individual liberty. Plus, whenever they get in power they tend to perform poorly, doing the opposite of what they promised and usually leaving the country in a worse state.
It is generally agreed that the Republican stances on social issues are due to the influence of evangelicals or the Christian right, who represent a major constituency. Their resistance to what the majority of this country wants, even the claim that the United States is a Christian nation, erodes the separation of church and state that was intended by our founding fathers. Never has a single political party been so contradictory, insofar as claiming to endorse a limited role for government and simultaneously trying to use federal law to restrict people’s personal decisions. The neoconservative branch, though, is mostly responsible for discrediting the Republicans in the eyes of the American people.
It’s been suggested that if the Republican Party seeks revitalization, it should return to its roots. This was a theme of most speakers at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held in D.C. But true conservatism, which I regard to be the libertarian variety, is often misrepresented in the media. The word itself reeks of “old”, its legacy tainted by people like Nixon and Bush, and the young people have no choice but to call themselves liberals. If more people knew what the terms meant, I suspect they would have to re-think their allegiances. Today’s liberal is more concerned with big government than freedom, and the conservative is often more like the classical liberal of old.
However, I don’t see this country’s problems as partisan; they are endemic to the whole system. President Obama has consistently blamed our currently bleak situation on the “failed policies” of the past. Perhaps he is referring to regulation in the markets, but in regard to spending, tax cuts, and foreign policy, he is only continuing on the same track. Bush’s defenders will point out that his tax cuts worked to stimulate the economy after the burst of the dot-com bubble, and that our country has not sustained a terrorist attack on our soil since 9/11. There are also those who prefer to blame Democratic policies of relaxed lending begun under Clinton for the whole sub-prime mortgage crisis that got us here.
Thankfully, the election of Barack Obama has done much to recover our image abroad. His policies represent a renewal of Keynesian thinking, where the government’s power to tax and spend is used to manipulate the economy. In recent weeks, the market has responded to the stimulus bill along with fears that banks might be nationalized with the Dow falling to its lowest level since 1997. In response to Obama’s claim there is “no disagreement” that government intervention is needed, the Cato Institute took out a full-page ad in the New York Times with the names of 200 economists who question the legislation. Pointing out that government spending did not pull us out of the Great Depression, they suggest that “reforms that remove impediments to work, saving, investment and production, lower tax rates and a reduction in the burden of government” as the best paths to recovery and growth.
That’s not going to happen, so let’s hope this works. In the next few years, I encourage all readers to monitor the effects of the bill in terms of GDP, inflation, and unemployment. Our current president will have to deal with huge debts and deficits and the potential threat of inflation to finance the trillions of dollars in spending that is anticipated. The greatest power on Earth is the power to create money. As we print more of it, or continue to borrow from China, our currency will surely be devalued, and other countries will simply stop accepting dollars at the rate they do now. This is how, in my opinion, the current actions of Congress might bankrupt our future. There is also the possibility of inflating another economic bubble that will inevitably burst again, and who will pay for it all and how does one decide who to bail out? Make no mistake, government is back, and is touted as the ultimate solution to all our problems. If the Republicans continue acting as foolish as they have been, it might be quite a while before we have a chance to make it smaller.