Monday, February 16, 2009

Not All Republicans Believe In Limited Government

After I cited a report last month that Jeb Bush was considering a run for the U.S. Senate, it turned out to only be a rumor. The Wall Street Journal reports on an interview with Mr. Bush, where he says that he’d be happy to never run for another political office. Bush has the advantage of having concluded two successful terms as Florida’s governor just before the economy went down the tubes.

Bush talks about what he thinks the Republican Party needs to do to regain its footing. Although he defends his brother’s presidential record, he says, “I think the one common thread throughout all these strains of conservative thinking and Republicanism is limited government. If we don't have that in common, what else do we have?”

But there is a distinct ‘moderate’ segment of the GOP that argues in favor of a big government approach. They want more of George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism.” People want government that helps them address real life problems, they say. These moderates insist (not without evidence) that the party has already embraced big governmentism. All that remains is for the party to align its rhetoric with its behavior.

Jeb Bush has demonstrated that conservative approaches to government can work. He thinks the GOP needs to apply these principles in California to show that smaller government can be effective. Good luck on that. California voters have demonstrated a durable unwillingness to align their expectations with the ability and readiness to pay for them.

An example of the kind of policy Jeb Bush likes is Sweden’s voucherized primary and secondary education system. Education “is not based on seat time,” says Mr. Bush. “It's whether you accomplished the task. Now we're like GM in its heyday of mass production. We don't have a flourishing education system that's customized.” He notes that Sweden’s system serves children from extremely varied backgrounds (including recent immigrants) quite well.

Mr. Bush says the GOP needs to focus on the states, because it’s much easier to accomplish things at the state level. He seems to somewhat advocate a states vs. Washington approach. Unfortunately, most states today are very happy lobbying Washington for more money and more favors. They seem to be willing to accept the burdens that come with federal cash.

Many of Mr. Bush’s ideas sound intriguing. Still, it’s difficult to see them coming to fruition in a country that appears to be moving rapidly in the opposite direction. On the other hand, from his own experience, Bush advocates a long-term approach. That might work.

But Mr. Bush is wrong about all Republicans espousing limited government principles. The current situation is not without its parallels. After the failed Goldwater candidacy, many Republicans dropped small governmentism like a hot potato. It took a dedicated Ronald Reagan to make small government ideals vogue again (against the wishes of the strong moderate wing of the party).

It will take Americans becoming broadly dissatisfied with big government bungling and intrusion before they decide to tack back the other direction for a while. That learning period might take some time, because the effects of government policies often become apparent only after a few years of application. And because each generation needs to be burned before they gain a full grasp of the danger of fire.

No comments: