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Democrats are eager to agree with that sentiment.

“The era of limited government is over, for good reason, because there are a whole host of national priorities that the government needs to take the lead on,” said Faiz Shakir, a leading voice on the left who works for the Center for American Progress in Washington and also runs the ThinkProgress blog.

Mr. Shakir named health care and global warming as two of the top challenges the U.S. electorate wants solved. He argued that only the government can effectively address them.

Government already has grown more under President Bush than under any president since Franklin D. Roosevelt. Measuring by the rate of spending as a percentage of the total economy, or gross domestic product, Mr. Bush’s 4.4 percentage point increase outranks those of all presidents since FDR.

Most of the growth came after Sept. 11, 2001, as the Bush administration committed to spend as much as it needed to prevent another terrorist attack on American soil, although billions have been wasted because of a dysfunctional contracting system.

Now, with a full-blown economic crisis, the U.S. economy is heavily dependent on the federal government, propped up by loans, guarantees and cash from the Treasury Department’s attempts to avert a financial meltdown.

Many conservatives believe that the prospect of Democrat Barack Obama as president, with a Democratic supermajority in Congress, means a new age of government on steroids may just be in its infancy.

However, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Georgia Republican, said in an interview that the American people already have seen “the failure of big government” in the past several years.

“It is big government which tried to put people in houses they couldn’t afford, that gave Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac the ability to borrow and lend on a scale they couldn’t sustain,” Mr. Gingrich said, referring to efforts that began under President Clinton.

He also took aim at the interest-rate cutting of former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, an ardent free-market capitalist.

“It was big government which was giving away money at one percent for two years and created an environment in which there was too much money in the system,” Mr. Gingrich said.

“So before I assume that our 200-year experiment with limited government and the rule of law is over, I would suggest we have no reason to believe the government is going to become more competent.”

So why has Mr. Obama gained such an advantage during the economic crisis?

“What you have right now is a country recoiling from George W. Bush into Obama,” Mr. Gingrich said. “The American people are substantially more conservative than either the Democratic Party or the elite media, but in this environment, everything is going to be drowned out.”

Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, agreed.

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