Did Big Government Republicans Save This Economy?

Benjamin Carlson has an interesting piece on the Atlantic Wire about the emerging trend -- at least, on the New York Times payroll -- to thank the government for saving us from a depression. Paul Krugman has a column today that praises "Big Government" for averting the crisis, with sideswipes at Republicans for doubting government's ability to be a force for good.

Wait a tick. Check out the arrows in the government's anti-recession quiver -- $700 billion of TARP, another $100 billion AIG bailout, trillion-dollar emergency action under Fed Chair Ben Bernanke. Weren't those all initiated under a Republican administration?

I'm not saying Obama's contribution to recession-busting was insignificant. The $800 stimulus bill will likely save millions of jobs and keep state budgets together. The stress tests were important to build, or maintain, confidence in our banking system. But the most important components to the rescue of our financial system are TARP and the Federal Reserve balance sheet, the responsibility of two Bush appointees.

As Krugman writes, government action appears to have saved a Second Depression. But he doesn't mention Paulson. He doesn't mention Bernanke. He doesn't use the word Republican, in fact, except to malign Congressional Republicans for their stalwart opposition to the Obama administration, which certainly has as much to do with strategy as anti-government ideology.

Then there are these troubling lines:

Ronald Reagan was wrong: sometimes the private sector is the problem, and government is the solution. And aren't you glad that right now the government is being run by people who don't hate government?

First of all, Ronald Reagan didn't say the government was always the problem. He said, in the wake of 1970s stagflation, that "In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." And you know, in the wake of 1970s stagflation, he might have been right!

Second I'm disconcerted by the argument that massive government involvement to stave off a financial calamity is an inherent argument for massive government involvement, period. I'm willing to cede remarkable powers to the government in times of crisis, but as Krugman and his colleagues have previously argued with forcefulness, the excesses of the former administration in the wake of 9/11 brought our government into dangerous proximity of our civil liberties. I'm not afraid of Obama taking my civil liberties, or installing death panels, or whatever the latest ridiculous claim might be. But I am nervous about the suggestion that a seemingly successful trillion-dollar bank bailout is an inherent mandate to expand the government's size, role and cost through the next 7 years. If we're going to pass health care, cap-and-trade or other big programs, let's pass them on the merits of the programs, and not on a blanket assumption that Big is Better.