January 25, 2004

Feeding the sharks

By: David Freddoso

There was room for doubt after the narrow 2000 election, but there was none after 2002. President Bush took firm control of Washington, his popularity decisive in establishing Republican control of both houses of Congress.

Scads of bona fide conservatives won their races, even as several Republican liberals were retiring and going down in defeat–a double bonus, especially in the House of Representatives. Now there would surely be some change?

A year has passed since the new class of firebrands was sworn in, but it has become a dark time to be a conservative in Washington, D.C. As a lifelong Cubs fan–and someone who personally knew Steve “Foul Ball” Bartman at Notre Dame–I have felt this way before. Today’s reassurances from Bush fans–“Wait till next year!”–are hauntingly familiar. But if the President, with a pliant Republican Congress, can’t do anything now to keep the growth of government under control, why should we expect him to change his ways in a second term?

With his State of the Union Address, President Bush has once again demonstrated a foolish willingness to indulge the culture of entitlement. He can’t veto the pork-laden spending bill currently before the Senate, but he positively promises to veto any attempt to undo his massive new prescription drug entitlement. He promises new funds for drug testing, job training, and half a dozen other initiatives, and sets a ridiculously low standard for the budget: “We will cut the deficit in half over the next five years.” (“Vote Bush: Only a quarter-trillion dollar deficit by 2008!”)
Is it any wonder that NBC News Wall Street Journal poll from last month shows Republicans have lost their advantage with voters on the issue of controlling spending?

I wish someone as wise as my mother were running things in this town. Mom knew better than to feed a shark. When I misbehaved after receiving a privilege or a treat, she would say something like, “That’s the last time I let you do that!” If she had instead spoiled me, I would have grown up to be even more unbearable than I am.

President Bush, on the other hand, responds to Democrats’ provocations with concessions and new wasteful social programs that they could have hardly dreamed up themselves: Now we’re buying people’s drugs for them, making payments on their houses, subsidizing teachers’ unions with massive education spending, and we may soon pay college tuition for illegal aliens, and send Social Security checks to Mexico as well.

Ronald Reagan had a hostile Congress, and even he did better to keep spending down than this president.

Last Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal reported that, on average, Bush has increased domestic discretionary spending by 8.2 percent annually, putting Lyndon Johnson’s 4.3 percent average to shame. Remember, this isn’t war-on-terror spending–it’s “let’s-buy-votes” spending.

Some Republicans like to say that Bush did not run as a small-government conservative in the first place. Refer them to Bush’s words in the third presidential debate of October 27, 2000–a debate he clearly won: “If [Gore] is elected,” Bush said in his introduction, “the era of big government being over is over. And so, too, I fear, is our prosperity. Big spending, as always, will slow the growth of our economy and return us to the days of debt. And here’s the difference. My plan has spending discipline.”

Bush had the right idea. Massive government spending–even with lower taxes–represents a large misallocation of capital that stunts economic growth. Even if the money is borrowed from the public instead of forcibly taxed away, this is money that could have and should have been invested usefully elsewhere, to create jobs and economic growth. Instead, it is being sucked into tax-advantaged government bonds, where it will be used to make dairy products artificially expensive, pay bums not to work, and promote homosexuality in Macedonia–and that’s just for starters.

That is to say nothing of the problems we will have repaying the debt later, with interest, or the fact that the Red Chinese are aggressively buying it up to hold against us in the future.

Moreover, with each concession Bush makes, the sharks become hungry for more. Call it the insatiable appetite of socialism, or the Iron Law of “It’s Never Enough,” but it’s become the supreme law of the land. President Bush, who understands the futility of appeasing violent terrorists, thinks he can somehow mollify left-wing fanatics bent on social and economic ruin for America.

There’s no political advantage to any of this pandering, as the Democrats’ rhetoric demonstrates. If Bush gives an effective amnesty to illegal aliens, he’s actually creating a “new apartheid,” a “second-class citizenry” that is deprived of the right to vote and may not even be able to claim our American birthright of unemployment benefits and subsidized housing. If he gives huge drug subsidies for old folks, he’s actually creating a “coverage gap” that will force granny to trade down from Iams to Alpo for dinner. If he hikes federal education spending by 60%, then he’s feeding our children to ravenous wolves. If he signs a tax cut that actually makes the tax burden more progressive than it was before–and without any significant budget cuts to social services, mind you–he is actually starving poor people to weaken their resolve, so that Halliburton can move in and drill for oil in their neighborhoods.

This all makes it hard to understand why Bush is making conservatives feel like Cubs fans just when he most needs our support. Cubs fans remain fanatically loyal through endless defeat, but conservatives may not be so reliable. They are already indeed disillusioned: it’s no accident that Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Ind.) was chosen to give CPAC’s keynote address this year. It’s not because he’s a big-shot in Congress (he is not), or even because he is a dedicated conservative (he is), but because he was among the very few who fought Bush’s entitlement agenda in Congress this year.

In December 2000, during the endless recounts, I stood in freezing rain in Times Square to support George W. Bush. Today, I feel hard-pressed to say much good about him. We can “wait till next year,” hoping that he becomes a totally different man, or that his Supreme Court appointments will make all this nonsense worthwhile. But if present performance is an indicator of future results, we may be in for a big disappointment.

David Freddoso, Assistant Editor for Human Events, writes for Brainwash.