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Old December 17th 03, 02:55 AM
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Default Rise and Fall of the GOP

The Rise and Fall of the GOP

The Cato Institute
By Edward H. Crane, President
Cato Policy Report
November/December 2003

Following an editorial board meeting this summer with newly appointed
National Republican Committee chairman Ed Gillespie, the Manchester Union
Leader editorialized that Gillespie "said in no uncertain terms that the
days of Reaganesque Republican railings against the expansion of the federal
government are over.Today the Republican Party stands for giving the
American people whatever the latest polls say they want..The people want
expanded entitlement programs and a federal government that attends to their
every desire, no matter how frivolous? Then that's what the Republican Party
wants, too."

Hmmm. Seems we've come a long way since the days of Ronald Reagan-not to
mention Barry Goldwater. The decline of federalism and limited government in
America accelerated in 1936 when FDR threatened to pack the Supreme Court if
it didn't turn a blind eye to blatantly unconstitutional legislation.
Goldwater was the first GOP candidate for president to challenge that
lamentable development and promise to return America to its heritage of

And Barry Goldwater was reaching America with his message. Many people
forget that Goldwater was just a few points behind his good friend Jack
Kennedy in the last poll taken prior to Kennedy's assassination. Goldwater
subsequently said that the moment he learned of Kennedy's death he knew that
he, Goldwater, would never be president. The American people were not about
to, in effect, endorse an assassination by throwing out the incumbent party.
True, Goldwater was demonized in 1964, but the depth of his defeat had less
to do with that than it did with the assassination of President Kennedy (and
nothing to do with Lyndon Johnson).

All of which tended to mask the resurgence of the Republican Party, which,
thanks to the Goldwater campaign, had become a party of ideas with a coheren
t philosophy of limited government. Even the regrettable election of Richard
Nixon (whose "philosophy" consisted of "screw my enemies") twice to the
presidency did not stop the growing philosophical sophistication of the GOP.
Ronald Reagan's memorable speech in support of Goldwater led directly to his
election as governor of California in 1966 and then to the presidency in
1980. Reagan campaigned in a very Goldwateresque fashion. Government was a
danger to our liberties and had grown far too large and intrusive. We should
eliminate the Department of Education and Energy because education and
energy are not federal responsibilities. Americans overwhelmingly endorsed
that approach-just over two decades ago.

Things started to go downhill for the GOP philosophically speaking with the
decision of the Reagan forces in 1984 to run a "Morning in America"
campaign, long on beautiful scenery and short on ideas. Whether because of
the Gipper's declining health or gutless advisors, the campaign missed an
incredible opportunity to capitalize on an enormously popular president by
laying out specific programs to shrink the federal government. Reagan got
his landslide, but no mandate. Reagan and his advisors compounded the
uninspired second term by effectively turning over the presidency to George
Bush, a man with few or no political principles. The first thing Bush did
was empty the federal government of virtually all Reagan appointees.

The late 1980s and the 1990s also saw the rise of supply-side economics,
which further undercut the GOPS's philosophical approach to governance. Don'
t worry about the nasty arguments about the proper role of government, the
supply-siders argued. Just cut marginal tax rates and the economy will be
spurred on to grow faster than government, thereby shrinking government as a
percentage of GDP. Tax cuts were and are a good idea, to be sure, but it was
wrong to pretend the hard work of promoting limited government could be
ignored. Republicans, with a few notable exceptions, stopped talking about
less government.

The vacuous campaigns of George Bush and Bob Dole then gave us eight years
of the political triangulation of Bill Clinton. The philosophical collapse
of the GOP came with the 2000 campaign of George W. Bush, who ran without
calling for a single spending cut, much less the elimination of programs,
agencies, or departments. Worse, neoconservatives moved to fill the
philosophical vacuum created by the supply-siders. The neocons openly
support BIG GOVERNMENT and consider FDR to have been a great president. They
are the intellectuals who came up with the "faith-based initiative" and like
to frame the political debate as one between people who want religion in the
political square and the secularists who don't. The neocons are the ones who
pushed Bush to call for greater federal government involvement in K-12
education than any president in American history.

And now the neocons are calling for American Empire. We have, indeed, come a
long way from Regan and Goldwater.

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