Mar 18, 2011

Rand Paul on Conservatives

Libertarians, in my experience, seem to have two gears: one gear for saying crazy things, like when Ron Paul complained about Homeland Security getting money to deal with swine flu*; and one gear for making more sense than just about anyone else.

Here's an example of the latter from Rand Paul:
Imagine this—what if there had never been a President George W. Bush, and when Bill Clinton left office he was immediately replaced with Barack Obama. Now imagine Obama had governed from 2000 to 2008 exactly as Bush did–doubling the size of government, doubling the debt, expanding federal entitlements and education, starting the Iraq war–the whole works. To make matters worse, imagine that for a portion of that time, the Democrats actually controlled all three branches of government. Would Republicans have given Obama and his party a free pass in carrying out the exact same agenda as Bush? It's hard to imagine this being the case, given the grief Bill Clinton got from Republicans, even though his big government agenda was less ambitious than Bush's. Yet, the last Republican president got very little criticism from his own party for most of his tenure.
For conservatives, there was no excuse for this.
But this raises a question: what exactly is a conservative?  Conservatives like to say that they are against Big Government, Big Spending, and Debt.  Yet ... they also, by and large, supported Reagan and the Bushes.  Reagan and Bush the Former tripled the national debt, more or less.  Bush the Lesser approximately doubled it.  The largest deficit in history was a Republican budget--the monster $1.4+ trillion Bush 2008-2009 deficit.  Obama reduced that to just under $1.3 trillion--still unsustainable, but a hundred billion dollar step in the right direction.

For all the years of my life, the Republican party has one-upped itself in creating ever larger deficits and ever more debt whenever they were in power.  They have followed this by a petulant brinkmanship of government shutdowns and threats of near-certain default whenever out of power, justified by agonized hand-wringing about fiscal responsibility.  If the Democrats don't fix the mess we made, they say, we'll shut down the government!  We'll refuse to raise the debt ceiling!  We'll protest and march in the streets!

Such antics do not a fiscal conservative make.  Consider this chart of debt burden (debt as percentage of GDP):

You'll notice that every single Republican from Ford on increased the debt burden.  You'll also note that every Democrat decreased the debt burden, with two exceptions.  The first is Roosevelt, who was faced with the worst economic crisis in history AND the largest war in history.  The second is Obama, who has had but one complete fiscal year (of either 4 or 8) and it in the middle of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, expensive wars and virulent opposition--and even so reduced the deficit.

If you really and truly support and admire Reagan and Bush the Former and the fiscal policies that tripled the debt, and if you really do support and admire Bush the Lesser and the tax and fiscal policies that doubled even THAT debt, then why call yourself a conservative?  And if you are a fiscal conservative, then why on Earth would you vote Republican?
*Hint: Homeland Security has things that lots of people have to touch--like fingerprint scanners--and people who have to touch lots of things--like the folks who check your documents at airports.  Both are ideal conduits for spreading disease.

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