David Frum wonders in this month’s Cato Unbound lead essay, Republicans and the Flight of Opportunity, whether the collapse of the Gingrich Revolution of the 1990s and the emergence of George W. Bush has resulted in the squandering of “The fairest chance to achieve the limited-government agenda.”
The state is growing again—and it is preprogrammed to carry on growing. Health spending will rise, pension spending will rise, and taxes will rise.
Now I still continue to hope that the Republican party will lean against these trends. But there’s a big difference between being the party of less government and a party of small government. It’s one thing to try to slow down opponents as they try to enact their vision of society into law. It’s a very different thing to have a vision of one’s own.
And the day in which we could look to the GOP to have an affirmative small-government vision of its own has I think definitively passed.
He notes three reasons:
First, while small-government conservatism remains an important faction within the Republican party, it is only a faction. When Republicans held the minority in Congress, the small-government faction could act as an important blocking group against big-government over-reaching—as happened for example with Hillarycare in 1994 or the Carter energy plan in 1978. But when the Republicans won their majority and the small-government faction tried to enact an affirmative agenda, suddenly we discovered that we were not strong enough to enact a program by ourselves — and had instead rendered ourselves vulnerable to blocking action by others…
..Second, I think it’s been fairly established now that the Republican party responds far more attentively to the practical needs of business constituencies than to the abstract principles of free-marketeers. Tom Delay’s “K Street Project” attempted to harness the might of the business lobbying community to Republican goals. It ended instead by subordinating the Republican party to the wishes of the business lobbying community…
..Third, for the GOP to reinvent itself as a limited-government would require it to repudiate much or maybe close to all of the domestic agenda of the Bush administration.
His ultimate conclusions are gloomy.