In the wake of last week’s vote for national health care, it is becoming clear that the Republicans have a great shot at success on Election Day this November. The Republican establishment is wisely listening to conservatives who believe in limited government, but will Republican politicians keep their promises once back in power?
Today’s political landscape is reminiscent of 1994. Conservatives were incensed at big government. Threats of national health care legislation, gun bans, and tax increases woke up the movement. Conservatives demanded limited government. They made themselves heard and they put Republicans back in charge of Congress. America had a conservative Congress for a few years, thanks to principled conservatives like Dick Armey and Newt Gingrich.
Unfortunately, some within the movement wanted to use the levers of power to achieve societal change. As I detailed in an earlier column, a handful of aging social conservative leaders who still cling to the statism of the progressive movement of their youth wished to use the power of big government to change American society. Rather than seeking to prevent big government from harming traditional values, they instead thought big government could promote values by limiting freedom. Needless to say, this was the wrong direction for a party elected on the promise of limited government, and it would not be long before they were put out of power.
In the final years of GOP control, all we saw was big spending and even bigger government.
In fact, if he chose to, President Obama could plausibly claim that he has simply continued GOP-era big government. After all, Bush and the GOP establishment gave us the unfunded prescription drug benefit program, bailouts for Wall Street and the auto industry, an attempted big government ban on online poker (legislation that even forced banks to act as an unpaid arm of the Justice Department), and huge budget deficits.
Unfortunately, there are already warning signs that this pattern will repeat itself. Former Gov. Mike Huckabee refused to attend this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), claiming it was too libertarian. He was actually confused and offended by the refusal of the attendees at CPAC to focus on empowering the federal government to force societal changes. Similarly, Politico recently reported on the growing rift between some social conservative leaders and the rest of the conservative movement. In the article, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council calls Americans for Tax Reform and FreedomWorks leaders “liars” for implying that conservatives want less big government in the social arena. [Focus on the Family declined a request for comment.]
For limited government to succeed, it must be limited across the board. If we allow government to expand in one area, it will naturally expand in other areas as well (as we saw with Bush’s prescription drug benefit). Fortunately, we can accomplish all we want – without big government.
For example, pro-lifers can be pro-life without being pro government. Legislation can be based on protecting the unborn from the aggression of others, rather than on the morality of having or performing abortions. This is how many Libertarian presidential nominees have been able to be strongly pro-life (including Bob Barr and Wayne Allyn Root in 2008 and Ron Paul in 1988) without being statists. Protection of rights is a proper function of government under any definition. This is why no one thinks laws against murder or robbery represent big government.
Likewise, we do not need laws against things like online poker. People who do not wish to participate can simply choose not to participate. Problem solved! The Internet is a wonderful tool that is best kept outside the realm of government prohibitions. If one group wishes to control one part of the Internet, another group will seize control of another part, and soon we will have a far less free Internet. It is time to step back and leave the Internet alone.
Big government is the problem, not the solution. Most conservatives have seen the light. We have seen the corrupting impact of big government. We have lived it, and we would rather protect our values from big government than entrust big government with them.
If we want to preserve the next electoral victory for limited government conservatism, we will all need to hold the GOP to its promises. We will need to tell our lawmakers that we demand liberty. We will need to tell them that their cushy seats on Capitol Hill will be at risk EVERY time they even hint at voting for more government. We will need to tell them that we no longer accept lip service.
If the GOP can remain committed to limited government, we can have an enduring conservative majority. If they cannot, it will be 2006 and 2008 all over again.
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