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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    GOP: The big government party?

    Republicans are masters at crafting friendly-sounding phrases to describe their beliefs. Republicans are the Second Amendment party, the right-to-life party, the lower-taxes and small-government party, the Christian morality and family values party, and the party that supports personal responsibility, national defense, winning the “”war”” in Iraq, defending us from terrorism and bringing our troops home with honor. Many Americans seem to accept all of these.

    These short phrases are conducive to use in soundbites and repetition in speeches. Democratic descriptive phrases like “”change,”” on the other hand, have been gutted mercilessly during the last year, and Democrats have been less than willing to return the favor. The result? Republican ideals simply sound better.

    It doesn’t take much thought to see that some of the Republican party’s claims are false advertising. A full debunking of each of those claims could fill several columns. The greatest among these myths is the assertion that Republicans favor smaller government and, with it, lower taxes and fiscal conservatism. In reality, this is not the case, and it has not been since the birth of Reagan conservatism.

    The Bush presidency has seen an alarming increase in executive power and government spending. The conservative counter to this is to proclaim that Bush is not a “”true conservative,”” because a “”true conservative”” would spend responsibly, shrink government and not get tangled up in foreign affairs.

    Political scientist Alan Wolfe has compared this claim to the common Trotskyite assertion that the failures of Cuba, Russia and China are not the fault of communism, because these states are not “”truly communist.”” At some point, when politicians fail to meet the requirements of their ideology, you have to stop proclaiming that they’re not trying hard enough and start questioning the ideology.

    Bush isn’t the only false conservative by this metric: The Republican-controlled House and Senate during most of Bush’s presidency have done a fantastic job of enabling his power excesses, and, as Salon writer Glenn Greenwald noted, self-identified conservatives have done a great deal of cheerleading for the Bush regime. This includes National Review-type conservatives, who are notorious now for pushing the “”Republicans today are not true conservatives”” meme. Is everyone who claims to be conservative just faking it?

    Bush was once seen as a true successor to Ronald Reagan, the gold standard for conservatism. If you believe the modern talking points, Reagan shrunk the size of government considerably. His tax cuts provided a strong stimulus to the economy, and government spending was generally curtailed. These elements are part of a mighty Republican narrative, and tapping into the common nostalgia for Reagan has enabled Republicans to continue snaring people with promises of small government.

    This narrative is remarkably transparent. The excesses of Bush are not out of the norm for conservatives. Like Bush, Reagan cut taxes in ways which made the rich richer but didn’t benefit the middle class. (Under Sen. Barack Obama’s plan, middle class taxes will be lower than they were under Reagan.) Like Bush, Reagan gutted government agencies in ways that made them useless, but not any smaller. Like Bush, Reagan went wild in an orgy of deficit spending, including spending on ridiculous wars (remember the Iran-Contra affair?) and military buildups (remember the Strategic Defense Initiative?) which were wholly unnecessary.

    Bill Clinton alluded in his speech at the Democratic National Convention to the fact that the only reason Bush has seemed so bad is because a Republican-controlled Congress has enabled his style of government.

    Fiscal conservatism and shrinking government are Republican fairy tales. As Wolfe further argues, the real Republican agenda is “”bloated, inefficient, corrupt and unfair government”” as evidenced by the poor Republican handling of the war in Iraq, FEMA and Medicare. The sort of big government created by Republican presidents helps spark fears about government in general, ensuring that Republicans can continue to use big government to scare up votes.

    The crafting of the small government myth is one of the many wondrous successes of the Republican Party, and the failure of Democrats to grow a pair and call them out on their continued lying is one of the reasons Sen. John McCain may well win in November. Democrats would do well to focus some energy on dismantling Republican talking points, and the very first one on their list should be to expose the innards of the sacred cow of Reagan conservatism.

    -ÿTaylor Kessinger is a senior majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology, math and physics. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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