- The Washington Times - Monday, October 16, 2006

BUCK WILD: HOW REPUBLICANS BROKE THE BANK AND BECAME THE PARTY OF BIG GOVERNMENT

By Stephen Silvinski, Nelson Current, $25.99, 270 pages

Legend has it that as President George H. W. Bush uttered the words “kinder and gentler” to describe his brand-new administration in his Inaugural Address in January 1989, Nancy Reagan, sitting by her husband on the podium, whispered to him, “kinder and gentler than whom, Ronnie?” She had a point.

For in Washingtonese, “kinder and gentler” spells Big Government and higher taxes, despite an emphatic if ephemeral pledge by Vice President Bush of “no new taxes: read my lips” to the 1988 Republican Party convention in his acceptance speech as the Republican presidential candidate. As likewise his son, President George W. Bush, made a similar ephemeral pledge on Aug. 31, 2001: “One of my jobs as President is to make sure we keep fiscal sanity in the budget.” Yeah, sure.

The brilliance of this book and its intelligent and intrepid young author is his dare to Republicans to come up with new answers to face a new reality: dimly-seen new politics — not politics “as is.” Our author asks the Republican Party to rethink its fiscal stand — and not yield to what Nobel economist Milton Friedman calls “the tyranny of the status quo,” to which the media, conventional wisdom and the two major parties pay obeisance.

Mr. Slivinski charges that the Republicans — who at this shaky electoral moment “control” the Senate and the House — have abandoned their roots. They are anything but conservative. They embrace Big Government. As do the Democrats. Big Government is thus a non-issue — alas, oddly bipartisan. To Mr. Slivinski, however, the situation is ripe with political opportunity for those of his libertarian persuasion, including the presently confused Republican Party.

First, he notes how earmarks or pork projects multiply for each home district or state. In the last Democratic Congress, earmarks numbered 1,549. The Republican Party in its first year got the number down to 958. But in 2005 and again in 2006 the yearly total zoomed to over 15,000, or an annual average of some 30 earmarks per member of Congress. So incumbents get reelected via pork — lots of it.

To be sure, Mr. Slivinski concedes the dollar amounts of such earmarks come to but some 4.5 percent of overall appropriations bills in the fiscal year 2006 just concluded. Yet are not earmarks the “gateway drug” of big spending addiction? Writes the author: “Once you get a taste, you’re hooked.”

Yet it is a gateway to not only re-election but corruption. Our author notes that indicted arch-lobbyist Jack Abramoff once called the Appropriations Committee, birthplace of most earmarks, a “favor factory.” Arizona Republican Rep. Jeff Flake tags earmarks as “the currency of corruption.” California Republican former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who confessed to taking bribes for promises of earmarks, got a jail sentence of eight years and four months.

Yet the supreme irony of today’s Big Spending-Big Government Republicans is their run-in with the anti-Big Government thinking of the American voters themselves. For according to polls such as ABC News/Washington Post and CBS News/New York Times, American voters prefer a smaller state, thank you.

Poll numbers for the last 28 years on Americans opting for smaller government trend upward, reports our author — from 44 percent for smaller government against 41 percent for larger government in 1978 to 64 percent for smaller government against only 22 percent for larger government in 2004.

Concludes Mr. Slivinski: “It seems there is a large constituency that would respond favorably to a political party that can enunciate a clear program to make the federal government smaller, less powerful, and less intrusive. It’s those sorts of voters — Republicans, Democrats and independents alike — who catapulted Reagan to the White House. Those voters are still up for grabs. The Republican Party cannot take them for granted anymore.”

The author also makes the key point that gridlock is a friend of limited government. He finds that the growth of government by presidency (in terms of annualized real per capita federal expenditures) swings on whether the government is united (bad) or divided (good). Granted that this observation is counter-intuitive but the numbers bear it out. He points to the LBJ, Carter and Bush No. 43 presidencies as evidence of united government leading to overspending Big Government.

So, bully for stalwart Stephen Slivinski and his think tank, the Cato Institute.His wise, witty and well-researched book is a beacon light of saneness and lucidity in a murky, muddled Welfare-Warfare-Regulatory State.

William H. Peterson is an adjunct scholar at the Heritage Foundation and the Ludwig von Mises Institute.


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