Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Falling Off The Wagon, Republican Style

Douglas Kern, at TCS Daily takes a swipe at Republican inconsistency and (I'm calling a spade a spade) hypocrisy. Most of us know there's a battle raging in the GOP between the philosophy of small government, with real power in the hands of the states, and big government spendthrift bureaucracy, which was ugly and wrong when Democrats ran things, but is looking prettier now that the Republicans have the keys to the kingdom. You see, many Republican politicians seem to think they have to spend just a little more money, and bloat just a little more bureaucracy to keep getting elected, so that they can right wrongs caused by the profligacy of previous Democratic control; Kern calls it "the political equivalent of drinking yourself back sober." He analyses the current Republican conundrum:

The modern Republican lives in a Washington he hates -- it's too rich, too powerful, too centralized, too self-important. And yet the modern Republican wields all the power at the command of this bloated monstrosity. He sees the nail of big government, and he wants to hit it with the nearest available hammer -- more big government. I'll just cut off the head of one more Hydra, he thinks, and this time it won't sprout two more heads, because I have a clever plan. The modern Republican is Gandalf, having won the primary against Frodo, and fidgeting with the Ring of Power in his palm. So much good I could do, so many people I could help, if I only slipped it on, and besides, you just know that Saruman would wear the Ring if his party took Congress...
Kern doesn't let anyone off the hook in this one, even himself. In a mock-penitent confession of how he has succumbed to "the Three Deadly Republican Spending Rationalizations" he spells out how the Grand Old Party has strayed far from the basic tenets found in "the Republican catechism":
I can't claim ignorance, Father. In Republican school I mastered all the basic Republican commandments: Thou Shalt Not Criticize a Fellow Republican in Public. Thou Shalt Not Be Soft on Crime. Honor Thy Elders by Waiting For Thy Turn Before Running for Major Office. I confess that I have been complicit in the violation of the most ancient Republican commandment: Thou Shalt Spend as Little Taxpayers' Money as Possible, and Thou Shalt Cut Needless Spending Always and Everywhere. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
Kern elaborates on where the party has fallen, and how he himself has succumbed to the temptation to rationalize straying from the pure and ancient form of Republicanism. He exposes the party in all its guilt. He doesn't really solve the problem, although it's not for lack of solutions. It's more from lack of politicians willing to put principle over power. He does offer some of the answers to life, the universe and everything, but are more than a handful of office holders in Washington even interested in the questions? I'm not holding my breath.

Kern's piece is amusing, and I agree with a lot of it, but I have to make it clear that there are some exceptions. All waste, redundancies and systems made obsolete by technological advancement need to be cleaned up. I read a piece recently about how one state finally realised that the only reason they had drivers licenses renewed every two years was because the old licenses used to be paper and wore out. That is no longer applicable, as currently licenses are made of sterner stuff. They have since changed the system so that people only need to renew every ten years. Money saved, drivers and DMV employees both made happy. And a good time was had by all. I'm sure this kind of thing could be repeated on the Federal level ad nauseum. Much has been made of late of earmarks that can't be traced to their source. (Earmarks being little spending additions tacked on to bills that have nothing to do with the spending in question, usually anonymously.) They have proven a great lure to Reps and Dems alike, both anxious to garner (buy) votes via their largess (or should I say your largess, since the taxpayer is really footing the bill?) Other flaws and problems exist as well. Many programs currently falling under the government's umbrella could really be done more efficiently and effectively by the private sector. If it's a need, usually the private sector will step up with the way (or many ways) to fill it.
At the same time, I can't jump on the "all government spending is evil" bandwagon. There are ways that government can achieve economies of scale, even if none spring to mind right now, and some programs that we find wasteful now, because our society has moved beyond the need of them to some degree, were nevertheless useful in their time. Many conservatives believe now that federal government has no business being involved in education in any way, and I admit some sympathy to that position. However, I'm not sure I would have felt the same at other points in our history when there was such great disparity between the educational haves and have-nots, varying from state to state, as well as community to community. Having a universal standard for schools to live up to is not a bad thing, and I think the current conservative objection is less the government standard, and more the failure to live up to it--combined with the over-reaching of some of the educational system to include areas of teaching that some parents find immoral or irrelevant.

All of this can be argued, of course, but all I'm really saying is that all of us have some areas where we're more inclined to accept government spending than others, even Republicans, and that's not always hypocritical. There needs to be consensus on priorities. What's hypocritical is saying that only my priorities are good, and all else is objectionable. What's stupid is politicians (or anyone) acting like there don't have to be limits, and accountability--caring more about currying favor in their home district in order to get re-elected than about running the government wisely. Kern's piece is really an amusing way to point the finger at politician's lack of principle, and has a lot of valid things to say. Read it and decide for yourself how far you're willing to take it.