BIG GOVERNMENT SERIES/Last of three parts: The future of limited-government conservativism
President Bush stood in front of several thousand Republican donors in downtown Washington in mid-June and blasted the Democrats for breaking promises to rein in government spending.
“When the Democrats campaigned in 2006, they promised fiscal responsibility,” Mr. Bush said.
The president told the audience that if they wanted to avoid “a bigger tax bill and bigger government,” they should work hard to help elect Sen. John McCain as president.
Yet even Mr. McCain’s top aides are lamenting the political headwinds they are fighting because of the Republican Party’s excessive spending during the Bush presidency.
“It’s left a terrible legacy for the party,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the Arizona senator’s senior economic adviser, in an interview.
Revisit parts I and II here:
Part II MONDAY: • Pentagon spending growth outpaces auditors
Part I SUNDAY: • Big government gets bigger
The greater concern for some conservatives, however, beyond this election cycle, is that America may no longer care about the government’s size, scope and role.
The traditional conservative idea of limited government no longer pricks the electorate’s ears, Mr. Holtz-Eakin said.
“You can’t start by talking about smaller government. People don’t buy it,” he said.
David Frum, a former economic speechwriter for the Bush White House, agreed.
“America is a highly non-ideological country. And while there are some who care about government as a percentage of [the total economy], most Americans don’t care very much,” he said.
“If it gets to the European model and they tell you what to eat for breakfast, then they care,” Mr. Frum said. “But there’s a lot of leeway until Americans’ libertarian instincts kick in.”