Big-Government Conservatives: Who Are They?

 

4634992731_63ec506cba_mWe’ve been arguing a lot about libertarians here on Ricochet. I’ve been criticized for quoting from a blog that some Ricochetti took to be non-representative of libertarians. For the record, I never claimed it was representative; I was mainly just interested in the argument being made. But some people were irritated even by the reference, and reminded me that they could cherry-pick some pretty terrible big-government conservatives if they chose.

Actually, I’m quite interested in this. Who are the obnoxious big-government conservatives out there? Don’t tell me George W. Bush, because he’s retired. (Although, on that point, I grant that he was bad about spending and permitting government bloat, but how much morality policing did he really do? Not a whole lot.) I’m mainly interested in people who are influential in conservative politics right now. Are there prominent, unapologetic advocates of bigger, more intrusive government out there? Rick Santorum? Mike Huckabee? I want to know who really gets under your skin, libertarians. If you want to provide links as well, that would be awesome.

To me it seems like small government thinking is pretty solid conservative orthodoxy these days. If you want more government, you’d better be real quiet about it because that won’t fly in almost any conservative setting. But we do spend a lot of time accusing one another of favoring big government. Are we just shadow-boxing? Suspecting one another of insincerity or just naiveté? 

Commence with the pile-on. But give specifics, if you don’t mind.

Image Credit: Flickr user elycefeliz.

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  1. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    I think a lot of this comes from a misrepresentation of social conservatism. Just because we desire a better, more virtuous citizenry does not automatically mean we think government is the necessary (or even viable) manner in which to bring such things into being.

    I’ll grant that some actual legislation enacted by Republicans expanded government (NCLB being the shining example), but the counter argument is to show anyone (Bueller? Bueller?) who actually decreased the size of government.

    • #1
  2. The King Prawn Inactive
    The King Prawn
    @TheKingPrawn

    I’ll go farther and restate my long held proposition that the government we have is a reflection of the people we are. Government does have some effect on shaping the citizenry, but by and large government is downstream of culture and society. Paul Rahe disagreed with me on this and was only able to offer high school as an example of government being the cause of any positive effect in the citizenry. If felt odd to metaphorically pat the good professor on the head and give him an “A” for such a valiant effort.

    • #2
  3. Gödel's Ghost Inactive
    Gödel's Ghost
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    The King Prawn:

    I’ll grant that some actual legislation enacted by Republicans expanded government (NCLB being the shining example), but the counter argument is to show anyone (Bueller? Bueller?) who actually decreased the size of government.

     See, we’re off the rails already. A small-government conservative wouldn’t have proposed NCLB, let alone signed it into law. The counterargument is not to show anyone who actually decreased the size of government (but I’ll go ahead and nominate Andrew Jackson for paying off the national debt and abolishing the Second Bank of the United States). By this standard, not even Ronald Reagan was a “small government conservative.”

    I’ll begin to contemplate SoCons’ arguments seriously when they stop being this risible.

    • #3
  4. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Practically every Republican in Congress is not willing to shrink government because it’s a political non-starter… and many of them are technocrats who like tinkering with the behemoth.

    I don’t think I bring up “big government conservatives” too much, and most of the moral conservatives can’t do much but stick their foot in their mouth and marginally hurt the rest of the party.

    I’m with Prawn in that we have the government that represents the will of the people, and the people are moderate socialists libertines, largely due to a government feedback loop and because moderate socialism is practically a default human state. Republicans appeal to the small government in us, and the Democrats speak to the soak-the-rich anti-men aspects of their party, but each are pulled to the moderate socialist median when it really gets down to it.

    So, while it might annoy me when some seem to call for government counter-intervention in shaping culture, I know it’s all bark and no bite. Unless the government stops lowering the costs of bad choices, we are stuck in our current miasma. Something that will only happen when markets force it.

    • #4
  5. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    The King Prawn:

    I’ll go farther and restate my long held proposition that the government we have is a reflection of the people we are. Government does have some effect on shaping the citizenry, but by and large government is downstream of culture and society. Paul Rahe disagreed with me on this and was only able to offer high school as an example of government being the cause of any positive effect in the citizenry. If felt odd to metaphorically pat the good professor on the head and give him an “A” for such a valiant effort.

     I wasn’t looking to start a thread about “what government does for you that you actually like”, but the first example that always occurs to me is parks. I love parks.

    Would parks absolutely have to be a government thing? No, not necessarily, and I also love a lot of for-profit institutions that my family visits. (I’m a huge fan of memberships. I get annual memberships to kid-friendly places and we go zillions of times.) But you know, I do go to these government-built places and love them; I even think they can be instruments for moral improvement. (Nature! Beauty! Community with other parents and kids in the neighborhood!) So I can’t actually say that I don’t enjoy or appreciate anything government does.

    • #5
  6. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy
    @FricosisGuy

    You do have to look back at Bush 43: he was the last GOP president and we’re living with the consequences of his actions. His Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives started funneling federal funds to groups that many of us like and support, to the tune of $14 billion in 2006. This doesn’t include the local and state funding that is directed the way of these “charities”.

    Of course, the beauty of this funding model — at least from a big government perspective — is that such figures are very hard to suss out. This office — or its successor under Obama — doesn’t directly fund anyone. However, I’ve run down the huge percentage of federal funding (over 50 percent) of groups like Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services in other posts and comments.

    We are still feeling the [perhaps] unintended consequences of this Bush policy:

    1. The tithe and offering funding model is gradually being replaced by a grant and contract model. 
    2. This new model has therefore created new constituencies that demand local, state, and federal funding.
    3. Even more dire, the Obama administration has been able to use this program to direct funding to favored groups or further compromise potential enemies. It should be no surprise that stimulus dollars were directed in this way.

    How about an example from today? Well, if supposedly hard-line social and fiscal conservatives like Louis Gohmert are advertising that they’ll write letters to help your faith-based organization feed at the trough, we’re in deep doo-doo.

    • #6
  7. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    We’re already off the rails though. I want examples of conservatives who argue for more government. Or Draconian forms of morality policing. Politicians who cut deals to get re-elected are another sort of problem. I want to know who, on the level of theory, are the dissenters from the small-government pact?

    • #7
  8. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    We already have big government. So we don’t have to find “prominent, unapologetic advocates of bigger, more intrusive government”, just advocates of not changing the status quo.

    Now these folks have characteristic defenses when accused of being pro-big government: “politics is the art of the possible”; “oh, so now it’s a purity test, is it”; “we must have a big tent” etc. Often this is accompanied by the implication that they are the adults in the room and that those calling for actual reductions in the size and scope of government are unworldly idealists at best, and childishly unserious at worst.

    Small-government advocates often have a principled reason for their positions, or at least one based in experience. Those who resist the unembiggening of government often just assert the superiority of their positions — or the inferiority of those who would disagree with them — without providing any particular underpinning philosophy for maintaining Leviathan. One might suspect them of being interested in wielding power for their own ends.

    I would name names, but I fear the corner of this Coolidge-sized comment is too small to contain them…

    • #8
  9. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    You already mentioned him, but Rick Sanatorium is perhaps the best example.

    [Libertarians] have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do, government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low, that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues.

    That is not how traditional conservatives view the world. There is no such society that I’m aware of, where we’ve had radical individualism and that it succeeds as a culture.”

    – Rick Santorum

    • #9
  10. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    Mike, I don’t see a call for big government in that quote from Santorum. It’s obviously an indictment of a certain kind of atomizing, libertine individualism, but the reference to small government is part of a larger philosophy that’s being criticized, and the call for bigger government is at best a very weak implicature. Any other smoking guns on Santorum?

    Genferei: That’s pretty weak. I mean, obviously we *do* have to work within the bounds of politics as it is, so while it’s clearly possible for someone to use that as an excuse for a power-grab, it’s still pretty relevant to my point if you can’t come up with anybody on the conservative side who openly supports a large state just because he thinks it’s the right thing to do.

    My point is on the level of theory. Isn’t small government the only game in town right now for conservatives on that level? If so, shouldn’t we stop arguing about the goal and shift to questions of how (and for what) we achieve it?

    • #10
  11. user_1938 Member
    user_1938
    @AaronMiller

    How about every Republican who bought the Democrats’ false premise that Obamacare must be replaced with something? Apparently, Republican politicians don’t object to more government-directed healthcare; they just want to control it.

    • #11
  12. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Rachel Lu: Any other smoking guns on Santorum?

     No, not if you’re simply going to brush them off.

    • #12
  13. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    If we define “Big Government Conservative” as someone who advances a principled case for enlarging the state for its own sake, then we are unlikely to find many.

    If we define “Big Government Conservative” as someone who, by her actions, does not consider the existence of a state of the size and scope it is today as being terribly important, then we capture most of Congress.

    Let’s take Paul Ryan, for example. I do think he is concerned by the size of government. He says so all the time. His various budgets and plan shrink government. A tiny bit. And are still excoriated as radical by those who oppose freedom.

    A simple suggestion like abolishing the Department of Education — a minuscule department, dating from 1980 — is regularly portrayed as a ridiculous gesture, impractical to implement.

    So tell me again how the small-government message is the only game in town.

    • #13
  14. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    A few thoughts:

    1. There are two distinct kinds of big government you could be talking about: nanny statism and administrative welfare state.  They overlap in places, but they are distinct.
    2. As others have said, it’s hard to point to contemporary national examples because republicans are out of power.
    3. Santorum is probably a very good example, though one could easily indite any other Republican Congressional leader from 2000-2006, thanks to whom we got No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, and a host of other government expansions. Second, Santorum rarely seems to show any concern for public policy outcomes he’d like to see and whether government can do it (notice, BTW, how the logical conclusion of the comment Mike posted above is that he thinks the government should be allowed in the bedroom).  Third, you have his repeated and libertarian bashing.

    I have some examples of this, but they’re in Ricochet 1.0.

    • #14
  15. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    There’s an interesting website called The Federalist (you may have heard of it Rachel), where I just read Bobby Jindal Pwns Other Governors on Common Core. Turns out he’s virtually the only Republican other than Rick Perry to combat the nationalization of education. All the others, including Scott Walker, sadly, have sold us out to Common Core in order to retain their federal education funding.

    • #15
  16. Owen Findy Member
    Owen Findy
    @OwenFindy

    Rachel Lu: Mike, I don’t see a call for big government in that quote from Santorum.

    Isn’t it implicit in Santorum’s rejection of what he says libertarians want?  Or, are you after an explicit call for big government as a good in itself?

    Haven’t Bill Kristol at el explicitly called for a muscular “national mission” foreign policy or some such (the exact name escapes me) whose immediate corollary would be bigger government?

    • #16
  17. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Here’s a good Santorum quote:

    • #17
  18. Tom Meyer Contributor
    Tom Meyer
    @tommeyer

    Western Chauvinist: There’s an interesting website called The Federalist (you may have heard of it Rachel), where I just read Bobby Jindal Pwns Other Governors on Common Core.

    When Bobby Jindal is on, he’s on.

    • #18
  19. Mendel Inactive
    Mendel
    @Mendel

    Agree with the comments by genferei and Tom. Our current baseline is so bloated that just agreeing to the status quo is an implicit embrace of a large state sector.

    I would say that any Republican who voted for the farm bill earlier this year (and almost 3/4 of them did) has actively contributed to a “Big Government”: it gives out $100B per year of some of the worst types of government intervention and bloat. 

    Of course the bill was touted as a conservative victory because it reduced spending for food stamps by 1% and replaced direct crop subsidies with equally bad (and more expensive) crop insurance.

    • #19
  20. user_331141 Inactive
    user_331141
    @JamieLockett

    Here’s Erick Erickson explaining why Santorum is a Big Government Conservative:

    http://www.redstate.com/diary/Erick/2012/01/06/what-a-big-government-conservative-looks-like/

    Framing the debate so as to remove George W. Bush is ridiculous on its face since he is the last President that Republican’s managed to elect and used that power to expand government more than his alleged big government predecessor. 

    Every single Neo-Conservative whose founders and philosophical roots go back to disillusions leftists “mugged by reality”

    Mitt Romney/Jeb Bush style National Greatness/Technocratic administrator style conservatism which support such big government polices as NCLB. 

    Security Conservatives that support the failed, government expanding policy that is the War On Drugs.

    Chris Christie style “me first” conservatives. 

    • #20
  21. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    Perhaps I should give this more context. I’m certainly not saying that Republicans are always smart or adequately vigorous about opposing big government. But I recently quoted a self-identified libertarian actively calling for “parenting licensing”, and was booed on the grounds that “we could produce all kinds of awfulness if we cherry-picked like that”. I actually read some, in my ind, highly wince-able stuff in Reason and other libertarian hubs on a pretty regular basis (just your classic libertine “nobody has a right to tell me what to do” sort of stuff), but even though I’m prepared to believe that there are SoCons out there pumping for big government, I don’t know who or where they are.

    So I’m inviting people to do what I’m being accused of doing. Cherry-pick. Show me the worst of the worst. Are those two Santorum quotes the worst thing you can produce, really? That’s pretty tame.

    The fact that Republicans aren’t in power isn’t important. What politicians do isn’t easy to interpret anyway since politics is always a game of horse-trading and soul-sucking compromise. I care about advocacy here. What are people *saying* that they want? Talk may be cheap, but apparently it isn’t when libertarians are the ones saying foolish things, so… where’s the foolish chatter from the non-libertarian side?

    This isn’t just an invitation to fail. I really want to know where the dragons are, if they’re out there. I can definitely think of some conservatives cranks who I don’t respect, but they’re not mostly the morality-policing type.

    • #21
  22. Mike H Coolidge
    Mike H
    @MikeH

    Whoa whoa whoa. You’re cherry picking from civilian bloggers and you’re asking us to come up with similar sounding stuff from politicians!? If we’re allowed to use bloggers, I’m sure people would be able to more than satisfy your request.

    • #22
  23. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Mike H:

    Whoa whoa whoa. You’re cherry picking from civilian bloggers and you’re asking us to come up with similar sounding stuff from politicians!? If we’re allowed to use bloggers, I’m sure people would be able to more than satisfy your request.

    Good point.

    What about almost everything from the USCCB? Socially conservative, big government.

    • #23
  24. PJ Inactive
    PJ
    @PJ

    The last Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, established the equivalent of Obamacare at the state level when he was a governor.  

    The Republican presidential nominee before that, John McCain, sponsored a significant expansion of government regulation of political speech.

    Before that we had GWB.

    These folks may pay lip service to small government when talking to Republican audiences; heck, they may even believe it, but when it comes to actions while in possession of government power, they’re like the guy with the hammer who sees every problem as a nail.

    [Posted this before I saw #21, but I think the disconnect here is that most objections to “big government conservatives” are not about what those folks say but what they actually do.  It’s fine to say it’s not easy to interpret their actions, but at some point you’ve got to recognize a pattern here.]

    • #24
  25. user_331141 Inactive
    user_331141
    @JamieLockett

    Here is Gul McCarthy defending the bulk data collection, often of American Citizens:

    http://www.nationalreview.com/article/368813/obamas-belated-defense-nsa-andrew-c-mccarthy

     This looks especially bad given recent revelations that this data was available to the FBI and DEA: 

    https://firstlook.org/theintercept/article/2014/08/25/icreach-nsa-cia-secret-google-crisscross-proton/

    • #25
  26. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    Mike H:

    Whoa whoa whoa. You’re cherry picking from civilian bloggers and you’re asking us to come up with similar sounding stuff from politicians!? If we’re allowed to use bloggers, I’m sure people would be able to more than satisfy your request.

     Didn’t I already say twice that I don’t particularly want politicians? I’m not ruling them out insofar as they’re representative articulators of ideas, but I’d prefer to hear about writers, podcasters etc. I want to know where the big-government advocates are.

    It never would have occurred to me to classify the USCCB as “conservative”.

    • #26
  27. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    Jamie Lockett:

    Here is Gul McCarthy defending the bulk data collection, often of American Citizens:

    http://www.nationalreview.com/article/368813/obamas-belated-defense-nsa-andrew-c-mccarthy

    This looks especially bad given recent revelations that this data was available to the FBI and DEA:

    https://firstlook.org/theintercept/article/2014/08/25/icreach-nsa-cia-secret-google-crisscross-proton/

     Good. That’s the kind of thing I want. What else?

    • #27
  28. Rachel Lu Contributor
    Rachel Lu
    @RachelLu

    PJ:

    The last Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, established the equivalent of Obamacare at the state level when he was a governor.

    The Republican presidential nominee before that, John McCain, sponsored a significant expansion of government regulation of political speech.

    Before that we had GWB.

    These folks may pay lip service to small government when talking to Republican audiences; heck, they may even believe it, but when it comes to actions while in possession of government power, they’re like the guy with the hammer who sees every problem as a nail. 

    Not interested in that at the moment. People who don’t practice what they preach are one kind of problem, people who preach wrong things another. I’m looking at the second category right now. (There are plenty of libertarians in the second category, btw, so I’m just trying to fill out the picture.)

    • #28
  29. Gödel's Ghost Inactive
    Gödel's Ghost
    @GreatGhostofGodel

    Let’s remember that any proposal involving government in marriage coming from conservatives is, by definition, big-government conservatism.

    • #29
  30. user_331141 Inactive
    user_331141
    @JamieLockett

    Here is someone on Ricochet making the case for the Big Government failure that is the Drug War: 

    http://ricochet.com/license-breed/comment-page-6/#comment-2633265

    • #30
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