This article by Jacob Sullum exemplifies why, despite my libertarian sympathies, I wouldn't trust our country entirely to them because libertarians' priorities are all wrong. Sullum goes on at length about how the Republican domination of government has led to overspending and waste, and almost all of his points are correct except that he totally neglects to mention the single defining issue of our time: the War on Terror.
Hassett's specific topic is federal jobs, which shrank by 200,000 under Bill Clinton but have grown by 79,000 under George W. Bush. "Strange as it sounds," Hassett writes, "Clinton's record in this particular area is exemplary next to Bush's."
The new Department of Homeland Security probably accounts for all those 79,000 and more (at least 50,000 airport screeners alone). Should the federal government be screening luggage? I don't know if it's ideal, but the old system sure wasn't working.
I'm eagerly anticipating a Republican defeat because the party richly deserves it after failing so miserably to deliver on its promises of smaller (or even slightly less gargantuan) government. The combination of a Democratic Congress and a Republican president could not possibly be worse, and might very well be better, than the current arrangement, in which a Republican executive and a Republican legislature conspire to mulct our money and filch our freedoms.
Fine and good except for the fact that we're in a fight for our lives against Islamofascists who want to do more than waste our money -- they want to kill us. I believe that a divided government might be more stingy with my tax dollars, but I don't believe for a second that giving the Democrats another inch of power would help us defeat Islamofascism or make us any safer.
Bush and the Republican Congress turned Clinton's budget surpluses into deficits that peaked at $413 billion in fiscal year 2004. Federal spending as a share of GDP, which fell under Clinton to 18.5 percent, is again above 20 percent. Discretionary spending has increased faster under Bush than it did under Lyndon Johnson, no slouch in doling out taxpayer dollars. Earmarks have reached record levels, and the abuse of emergency spending bills is rampant.
No mention at all that "discretionary spending" includes military and homeland defense, which yes, have increased. I wonder why? True, there have been massive increases in addition to defense spending, but not all the deficit is due to pork.
Far from reforming entitlement programs, the Republicans compassionately created an exorbitant Medicare drug benefit that will add trillions of dollars to the program's long-term shortfall--the gift that keeps on taking. Far from reducing the federal government's scope, they have extended its reach into state and local matters such as education, abortion, marriage law, and end-of-life medical decisions.
Yes, the Medicare drug benefit is wasteful. As for the other "local matters" that Sullum claims Republicans have extended the federal government's reach into:
- Education: The federal government was already way too involved. The No Child Left Behind act is certainly flawed, but at least it attempts to require that federal dollars be spent usefully. However, I'd side with the libertarians and eliminate the Department of Education entirely.
- Abortion: The federal courts removed this issue from local or state control long before Republicans were in charge.
- Marriage law: Sullum is presumably referring to the issue of gay marriage. Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage act in 1996. Federal involvement so far seems to be limited to making sure that states don't run roughshod over each other.
- End-of-life medical decisions: Again I'd agree with the libertarians. If states can handle murder, they can handle euthanasia.
Sullum tangentially refers to the War on Terror in these next paragraphs, but only to imply that he'd prefer that we didn't fight it so vigorously.
Bush has either actively sought bigger government, as with the Medicare bill and the No Child Left Behind Act, or acquiesced in it, as with transportation spending and farm subsidies. Returning the favor, the Republicans who control Congress have acquiesced in the expansion of executive power, behaving as if they expect their party to control the White House forever.
It takes no leap of faith to believe that a Congress run by Democrats would be more inclined to impose limits on the president's surveillance, detention, and war powers. Or to suggest that Bush might suddenly find his veto pen when confronted by free-spending Democrats instead of free-spending Republicans.
Executive power always expands during wars, and then tends to contract again later. It's a dynamic system. Yes, it would have been nice if the Republicans had stuck with the small-government principles that led to the Republican take-over of Congress in 1994, but they didn't. It was a huge missed opportunity. However, even though wasting money is bad it's not as bad as would be losing the War on Terror; as Sullum acknowledges, it appears that President Bush acquiesced to Congressional demands for spending in exchange for the power he needs to win the war. He would probably have had to have made the same compromises with a Democrat Congress, and if the Democrats win next week the only difference will be their reluctance to let him fight on our behalf.