Ask yourself this: Suppose Gingrich or Romney become president and gets re-elected – suppose you had eight years of this...What would the conservative movement be? How would it understand itself after eight years? I think what would have gone away, perhaps forever, is the sense of limited government, the Tenth Amendment, Madisonian government of limited, delegated and enumerated powers — the sense conservatism is indeed tied to limitations on federal authority and the police power wielded by Congress — that would all be gone. It’s hard to know what would be left.In a column, Will doubles down on this line of criticism. Will is no fan of Romney, but he is an even bigger opponent of Gingrich, whom he calls the least conservative candidate. Instead, Will suggests Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman (whom more and more pundits have been giving a second look) as "conservative" alternatives.
I'm not sure that Will's despair here is entirely justified, however. After all, look at some of the salient points of George W. Bush's domestic record:
This list is partial, and doesn't consider the cases of the almosts that the Bush administration fought hard for but failed to achieve (such as Justice Harriet Miers). Bush's whole "compassionate conservatism" was premised on expanding federal power in order to achieve certain "compassionate" ends.
- Tax-cuts that were not offset by spending decreases and thereby added to the deficit (It's amusing to read a Heritage report from 2001 that predicted that the Bush tax-cuts would lead to the near-elimination of the federal debt by 2011.)
- Exploding government spending
- Anemic economic growth (well below the averages of past decades)
- Enormous deficit spending
- No Child Left Behind, which sets the stage for the federalization of public education and was probably the greatest expansion of federal power over education that the nation has ever seen
- Sundry other expansions of federal power, including the ban on the traditional tungsten incandescent bulb, which currently has conservatives up in arms
- A housing bubble (which the administration's policies encouraged)
- A near-economic meltdown
Somehow, small-government conservatism survived President Bush, and I see no reason why it could not survive some of the GOP presidential contenders, some of whom have a far more conservative campaign theme than Bush ever did. For example, though Will derides Romney as a "manager" or something, Romney's proposed policies would seem to have no small potential for promoting the aims of small-government conservatism.
To return to Will's column attacking Gingrinch for a moment, there's another point I'd like to look at:
Romney’s main objection to contemporary Washington seems to be that he is not administering it. God has 10 commandments, Woodrow Wilson had 14 points, Heinz had 57 varieties, but Romney’s economic platform has 59 planks — 56 more than necessary if you have low taxes, free trade and fewer regulatory burdens.I think this formulation is a little glib. Consider "fewer regulatory burdens." The fact is that we currently live amidst a complex of regulations. Every regulation depends upon every other regulation (as traditional conservatism would recognize). So it's not enough to get rid of regulatory burdens but to revise these burdens in the right way. Under Bush, certain regulations were gotten rid of, but the intersection of this "deregulation" and other regulations that were kept in place brought American to the brink of a financial collapse. Will may sneer at technocratic tendencies, but skill in finessing current regulatory regimes would be no small aid to small-government policies.
(Crossposted at FrumForm)