Well, that was an invigorating lunch discussion. The fiscal case against this administration is so damning and unanswerable that I'm not surprised the White House refused to offer up a single person to argue their case. Cato asked for someone. Rove sent no one. The audience was primarily conservative and libertarian, so the fact that almost no one there could defend Bush either - except as better than the alternatives - was instructive. But I think the "better-than-the-alternatives" point is awry as well. The salient question is: could a president Al Gore have managed to increase public spending as massively and as permanently as this crew? He would surely have been stopped in his tracks by a Republican Congress. Even a Democratic Congress would have felt the need to assuage the Republican grass roots and scaled back the huge growth. But not Bush. By hitching the Republican base to Christianism, and by legitimizing massive spending for a Republican, he has been able to dispense with much of what conservatism once meant. Limited government? Yeah, right. Balanced budgets? A joke. Individual liberty? Only if you're in the Middle East. Huge tax increases? Just you wait. They're now inevitable. A welfare state bigger and more intrusive than Ted Kennedy could dream of? That will be Bush's legacy. It will take conservatism a generation to recover its bearings.