Sunday, December 07, 2008

Conservatism wasn't defeated in November election

Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Last updated: Tuesday December 2, 2008, 4:10 AM

ON ONE LEVEL, the election of Barack Obama as president is symbolically a major step forward in moving our country into a post-racial era. In America, every individual should be judged on the basis of individual merit, not race. It is now clear to all that this standard is becoming a reality.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said that the American people already have seen "the failure of big government" during the George W. Bush 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." He also took aim at the interest-rate cutting of former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan: "It was big government that was giving away money at 1 per cent for two years and created an environment in which there was too much money in the system. So before I assume that our 200-year experiment with limited government is over, I would suggest we have no reason to believe the government is going to become more competent."

President Bush came to Washington almost eight years ago urging smaller government. He will leave it having overseen the biggest federal government expansion since FDR seven decades ago. Not since World War II — when the nation mobilized to fight a global war and recover from the Great Depression — has government spending played as large a role in the economy as it does today.

Now, we have embarked upon a program to use $700 billion in taxpayer money to buy up financial assets and take an ownership stake in the nation's largest banks, and that could be followed by a stimulus program of up to $300 billion. Bush is the first president in history to implement budgets that crossed the $2 trillion-a-year and $3 trillion-a-year marks. His final budget could near $4 trillion.

The Bush White House "didn't focus on spending," said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. "They didn't make it a priority. And this predates Sept. 11, 2001. It just wasn't on the list of things they were going to do."

President Bush's third budget director, Rob Portman, admitted that the Bush administration and Republicans "took our eyes off the ball, and it was a mistake ... We also allowed earmarks to get out of control." Two years after Republicans took control of Congress in l996, there were 3,055 earmarks — special spending programs for members of Congress — in federal spending bills, according to the Congressional Research Service. By 2004, the number of earmarks had ballooned to 14,211.

In his recent book "Heroic Conservatism," Michael Gerson, Bush's former speechwriter, declared that, "Republicans who feel that the ideology of Barry Goldwater — the ideology of minimal government — has been assaulted are correct."

On Election Day, voters did not reject conservatism. On the contrary, they rejected the Bush administration for expanding executive power, increasing deficit spending, conducting a far less than prudent foreign policy, and displaying a general lack of competence. Of the financial bailout package, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said: "If this isn't socialism, then I don't know what is." Conservatism, indeed, was not tried and found wanting — it was not tried.

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