Once upon a time, liberals in the Democratic Party were the principal defenders of individual freedom against big government. The champions of liberty — people like Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Grover Cleveland — came mostly from the Democratic Party.

The conservatives — who were the Federalists, the Whigs, and then the Republicans — upheld the traditional, long-standing view that our rulers know what’s best. People like John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt imposed their views of the national interest by violating the limits on government, without caring how that hurt individual citizens.

In 1932 Franklin Roosevelt criticized conservative Herbert Hoover for trying to cure the Great Depression with the same elixir that had caused it — big government. Roosevelt was the last Democrat to win the presidency by running as a traditional liberal.

But once in office, he became even more conservative than Hoover — reverting to the old way of using government to try to solve problems. By the start of World War II, he had already doubled the federal budget.

A few Democrats protested this betrayal of the liberal heritage. But the rest were pleased that their party was no longer the minority party, and they gladly transformed themselves into supporters of big government.

To provide a contrast, conservative Republicans had to begin posing as advocates of smaller government. But it’s doubtful that they’ve ever really believed in the idea of individual liberty. No matter how many chances they’ve had, they’ve never done anything tangible — even during the Reagan administration — to make government smaller, less expensive, less intrusive, or less oppressive.

Is there a difference?

So today both liberalism and conservatism promote big government.

Both make a big deal about obeying the Constitution. But both sides ignore the Constitution to pursue their objectives — liberals for social welfare, conservatives to stamp out drugs and immorality.

And each side ignores its own stated objectives. Free-speech liberals vote to censor the Internet and put a V-chip in your TV set, while anti-welfare-state conservatives vote for federal intrusions into health care, education, and welfare.

So no matter who’s in power, the government gets bigger and your freedom gives way.

The political game

In truth, it’s all a game — a political game.

Whatever real liberals and real conservatives may stand for, the politicians on either side stand for only one thing — power. They want to be in office, and they’ll do whatever they think will achieve that.

And political organizations, leaders, and writers play the game along with the politicians. Today conservative activists praise George Bush’s big-government policies — contradicting whatever they may have said about government last year. They betray their stated ideals as easily as the 1930s liberals did for Roosevelt and as the 1990s liberals did to defend Bill Clinton.

They’re applauding whatever George Bush does — supporting John Ashcroft (who has voted regularly against the Bill of Rights) and applauding big-government intrusions into education, charity and religion. They even cheer the president’s use of executive orders to circumvent Congress — although they condemned Bill Clinton for doing the same thing.

What happened to principle?

This may seem inconsistent, but it isn’t really.

In the eyes of conservative activists, Bill Clinton is bad and George Bush is good. Thus, by definition, whatever Bill Clinton did was bad and whatever George Bush does is good — even if they’re doing virtually the same thing.

Every argument made against the Clinton health-care plan seven years ago could be made against George Bush’s faith-based charity scheme. Both plans would take decisions away from free people and put them in the hands of bureaucrats. But conservatives won’t say so because the welfare scheme comes from George Bush rather than Bill Clinton.

There are no philosophical principles at work here, no sense of absolute right and wrong, no enduring attempt to bind government down with the chains of the Constitution. Instead, politicians, activists, and journalists — conservative or liberal — are like high school students, cheering whatever their own team does and booing their hated rival.

Where do you stand?

We expect conservative politicians to cheer whatever George Bush does — even when he violates supposed conservative principles. The politicians want to get and keep power — the power to live at your expense, the power to reward their friends and punish their enemies.

And it’s no surprise that conservative leaders and writers support whatever he does. They want access to the presidency just as much as liberal writers wanted access to the Clinton Presidency.

But why should you support the very things you oppose? Why should you try to make George Bush seem better than Bill Clinton — even as George Bush is working to expand government at your expense?

You should be better than the politicians and their prostituting cheer-leaders.

If you support the big-government policies of either the liberals or the conservatives — even if you think the other side is worse — you’re helping assure that big government will be with you for the rest of your life.

The only political issue of importance is: Who will run your life — you or the politicians? Bill Clinton’s wicked ways and George Bush’s religious compassion are trivial matters compared to the loss of freedom you’ve suffered at the hands of conservative and liberal politicians.

Only Libertarians oppose big government on principle. No, they aren’t winning important elections. But election victories mean nothing if the winner isn’t working to enhance your freedom. And it makes no sense to cast aside your beliefs just to support someone who seems to have a better chance to win an election.

We can’t turn America around overnight. But if we don’t separate ourselves from the political prostitutes and stand up for what’s right, we will never turn it around.

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