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Interest-Group Conservatism
Posted by: Dale Franks on Thursday, May 05, 2005

For years, Republicans have been claiming that they are the party of smaller and less intrusive Federal government. The Democracts, they claimed, were just too tied to interest groups, and had to pay them off with all sorts of Federal pelf. But, as Jacob Weisberg writes in Slate, the Republicans seem to have plenty of public-money-sucking special interests of their own.
When Democrats held power, liberal officials became beholden to the party's biggest financial and political backers. These included unions (in particular public employees and teachers unions); women's, civil rights, and gay lobbies; senior citizens; welfare advocates; the entertainment industry; and trial lawyers. One hallmark of Democratic governing became the disproportionate focus on policies that mattered far more to these groups than to the country as a whole—job protections for teachers and government workers, expanding affirmative action and abortion rights, opposition to malpractice reform, the continuous growth of benefits for the elderly, and so on.

Today the dominant conservative interests form a rival constellation: corporations, especially in the energy and military contracting sectors, evangelical Christians, wealthy investors, gun owners, and the conservative media. In the daily business of Washington, the old pattern remains in place, only with the substitution of these new supplicants and their new benefactors in the GOP. As in the old days, lobbyists work the halls of Congress and the regulatory agencies, functioning like carpenter ants to build a federal government ever bigger in size and more intrusive in scope...

The problem with special-interest conservatives is not that such agenda items violate their greater principles on any given point, any more than the policies promoted by Democratic interests violate liberal principles. Rather, it's that the entire enterprise of running Washington as a special-interest spoils system breeds a bloated, ineffective government—which does very much go against conservative principle. Ten years ago, conservatives defined themselves in large measure by their belief in less government. Many still view themselves that way, but the self-conception no longer has anything to do with reality. A recent Cato Institute study points out that for the 101 biggest programs that the Contract With America Republicans proposed to eliminate as unnecessary in 1995, spending has now risen 27 percent under a continuously Republican Congress.
What happened to all that "smaller government" stuff? During the 1990s, the size of government actually shrank in relation to the economy as a whole.

You know, I'm looking back on the Clinton Era more fondly all the time. Maybe the best combination is a center-left president and a center-right Congress, at least as far as domestic spending goes. That way, they will agree on nothing, and nothing much will get done.

Of course, nothing got done on terrorism in the 1990s either, so, clearly, there are drawbacks...
 
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You appear to be making the assumption that the Republican party is all of a peice.

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
It’s a structural failing of the electoral system. Congressmen who cut spending don’t get reelected. Congressmen who bring home the goodies do. Therefore, people truly devoted to deficit reduction are rapidly culled out in favor of people who will reward their districts with goodies.
 
Written By: Andrew
URL: http://andrewolmsted.com
Andrew.
Explain the election of Ronald Reagan, within that context.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
You know, I’m looking back on the Clinton Era more fondly all the time. Maybe the best combination is a center-left president and a center-right Congress, at least as far as domestic spending goes. That way, they will agree on nothing, and nothing much will get done.
I would agree. Not to mention it goes a long way towards limiting the reach of federal government, which is a core libertarian principal. If elected officials are too busy fighting themselves, they are more likely to leave the rest of us the hell alone.

Of course, nothing got done on terrorism in the 1990s either, so, clearly, there are drawbacks...
One could argue that nothing effective is being done about terrorism now, but thats another debate entirely. Nonetheless though, the inability to "tackle terrorism" in the 90s probably had more to do with a lack of foresight on the part of our leaders, something that continues to this day, rather than a problem with a balanced political system.
Explain the election of Ronald Reagan, within that context.
Considering that defecits definitely did *not* go down under Reagan, I fail to see how your example counteracts his statements. Also, it can easily be argued that that special-interest tax-cuts are just as much "bacon" as anything else... especially when they result in massive defecits.
 
Written By: Rosensteel
URL: http://
Considering that defecits definitely did *not* go down under Reagan, I fail to see how your example counteracts his statements
I should think the answer to that rather simple and two-parted.

1: Reagan ran on cutting taxes, and cutting government spending, and were broad based, not special interest based. Your claim was that people who run on cutting spending don’t get elected. Your claim is defeated on this point alone.

2: The reason spending did not get cut had nothing to do with Reagan, given his budgets were DOA before they ever reached the Hill. Congress responded to the increased income resulting from his economic policies, by massively increasing spending.

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
Of course I did. But, I also say the line I quoted which clear was painted with too broad a brush.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
Mmmf.
Yeah, now that I look at it, you’re right. Shoulda looked closer. Still, the point holds; he got elected, running on tax cuts.

Just to keep the peace, though, I’ll expand my response;

Explain the "Contract with America" in which one of the main planks was spending cuts. Clearly, these took their cue from Reagan. THe Democrats seeing the spending cuts called it the ’contract ON America"...

If I recall rightly, that one got a lot of Republicans elected.

 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com
Oh, politicians always get elected running on tax cuts. It’s just much tougher to get elected running on spending cuts

The Contract with America was both.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitheads.blogspot.com

 
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