It’s official: Every presidential candidate in the race favors
shrinking government. What? You don’t believe them? You shouldn’t. But
it’s a good sign that the candidates want you to believe them.
Look how Bush has clarified his message as the campaign winds down.
He says he is for limited government while his opponent is for the
unlimited kind. This is a long way from his approach at the beginning of
his campaign, which all about how he was going to spend everyone’s money
on education and medical care.
Most implausible is Al Gore’s claim that he will shrink government as
president. “I don’t ever want to see another era of big government,” he
said. “I’m opposed to big government. … I’m for a smaller, smarter
government. … I don’t believe there’s a government solution to every
problem. I don’t believe any government program can replace the
responsibility of parents, the hard work of families, or the innovation
Here, here! Up with capitalism and down with the state! But of
course, and like always, he’s lying. Indeed, both major candidates favor
big and bigger government in a range of areas. But the rhetorical ploy
to the contrary is itself very revealing.
For several years, we’ve been told by “official opinion” that the
American people now love big government. They love spending and taxes.
They love regulation and welfare. They love the American world empire
that shores up big government at home.
It is not true now, and it never was true. In fact, these claims tell
us more about the dreams of the writers than about the current state of
American political culture. Here we are in the last days of the
campaign, when the candidates are scrambling for every last vote, and
what rhetoric do they invoke? The language of anti-government ideology.
This is a good indication of what the politicians and their pollsters
believe is the most powerful ideological pitch to toss out to undecided
voters. This language, and the political philosophy that undergirds it,
continues to be the heart and soul of the American spirit. Americans
have been fighting against central political control for 225 years, and
the tradition continues. Socialism and political centralism have no
constituency in the American heartland.
What’s more, most Americans love the products of capitalism, admire
the men of wealth who have made it in the private sector and feel no
envy toward the rich. They believe more in themselves than in
politicians. There is no search going on for another Great Man of
History to rule this country. Most people have had it with this approach
Further, people are disgruntled with the products of government: the
tax collectors, the regulators, the schools, the programs, and the
entire decaying edifice of statism. Americans don’t like taxes, don’t
like conscription, don’t like the welfare state, and aren’t too crazy
about American troops floating around in the high seas of Yemen.
So when they want the American people to pay attention, those running
for office attempt to tap into this strain of thinking. Actually, the
same point can be made about the candidates’ tax programs. Each claims
to want to cut. The competition is over who benefits the most from the
tax cuts, with the reasonable assumption that voters are going to flock
toward the man who cuts them the most. To think that only a year ago, we
were being told that Americans no longer want tax cuts!
Can we now have a hiatus on the preposterous assertions that
socialist theory is now the dominant preference of the American people?
No chance. The pundits who claim that we now love big government have a
stake in seeing the libertarian strain in American politics banished
forever. They may hate welfare but love warfare, or it could be the
reverse. But the pundit class has an interest in destroying the clear
ideological categories that divide the country now and always.
Also fascinating is the way foreign policy is working itself into the
ideological mix ten years after the end of the Cold War. Since World War
II, the positions of both parties approximated the following: the
Democrats like welfare but oppose warfare; meanwhile, the Republicans
oppose welfare but favor warfare. This predictable pattern always put
real partisans of liberty, who opposed the entire welfare-warfare state,
in a bind.
But this year, something spectacular has happened, even if it is slow
in working itself out. Bush is running as the man who favors limited
government at home and abroad: he has come out against nation
building, called for a more humble approach to foreign policy, favored
an end to some troops placements abroad, and said openly that he doesn’t
think the American way of life should be imposed around the world.
He’s far from perfect, but realize that this is the way Democrats
used to talk. This is a dramatic turn and a departure from a decades-old
political impasse. The libertarian view that the government should
intervene neither at home nor abroad has at last found something of a
home in the American political orthodoxy.
Meanwhile, Gore belies his new limited-government rhetoric by
otherwise running as the man who favors world empire, while Buchanan and
Nader implausibly attempt to link socialistic economic views with
Harry Browne may not get the votes, but his radical platform
represents mainstream thinking far more than conventional political
opinion is willing to admit. There’s still a very long way to go, but
these trends are worth cheering.
After this election is over, we should reflect on the fact that the
original American idea was expressed in the founding consensus: the
American people will be left alone to work out their lives as they see
fit, to trade amongst themselves and with the world without hindrance,
and not be dragged into entangling political alliances here or abroad.
It’s long past time that this consensus be reflected, not just in
rhetoric, but in