The hypocrisy that underlays the GOP’s ‘big government’-bashing has been noted before, but seldom so well explained, as by Dr. Julian E. Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School. Zelizer, author of forthcoming “Arsenal of Democracy: The Politics of National Security — From World War II to the War on Terrorism” and other political science texts, puts it this way in his commentary “GOP’s ‘small government’ talk is hollow” at CNN Politics.com:
After the past eight years in American politics, it is impossible to reconcile current promises by conservatives for small government with the historical record of President Bush’s administration. Most experts on the left and right can find one issue upon which to agree: The federal government expanded significantly after 2001 when George W. Bush was in the White House.
The growth did not just take place with national security spending but with domestic programs as well. Even as the administration fought to reduce the cost of certain programs by preventing cost-of-living increases in benefits, in many other areas of policy — such as Medicare prescription drug benefits, federal education standards and agricultural subsidies — the federal government expanded by leaps and bounds. And then there are the costs of Afghanistan and Iraq.
Zelizer points out that govenrment spending reached $1.9 trillion when President Clinton left office, while President Bush proposed spending $3.1 trillion this year. Republicans controlled both houses of congress betwen 2002 and 2006 when much of the increase occurred. The conservative Cato Institute reported in 2005 that total government spending increased by a third during Bush’s first term — “the largest overall increase in inflation-adjusted federal spending since Lyndon B. Johnson.”
Zelizer’s article also notes the expansion of executive power under Republican rule, hardly commensurate with their advocacy of smaller government.
Fifty years of American history have shown that even the party that traditionally advocates small government on the campaign trail opts for big government when it gets into power. The rhetoric of small government has helped Republicans attract some support in the past, but it is hard to take such rhetoric seriously given the historical record — and it is a now a question whether this rhetoric is even appealing since many Americans want government to help them cope with the current crisis.
Government-bashing is an ever-present staple of GOP propaganda. Dems should not hesitate to hold them accountable for their record, as well as their rhetoric, and Zelizer’s article provides one of the best responses thus far.