Dissent Of The Day

A reader writes:

You wrote:

"But those who voted for [Bush] are absolutely enraged at the possibility of any change."

This is an absolute strawman, a tactic straight out of the Obama playbook. I am for all kinds of change. Health care deregulation would be nice. Ending agriculture subsidies and corporate welfare would be nice. Tax reform would be outstanding.

But with Obama we don't get change, we get more of the same. More government, just like Bush. A failed Keynesian stimulus driving us ever deeper into debt (and straight out the Bush playbook, with his ridiculous tax rebate of last year). More government in health care (Bush, Medicare expansion). More government in energy policy (energy bill passed under Bush's watch). I'm all for change, just not for big government.

Well, count me in, then. Unlike many of these tea-partiers and their supporters, I actually took on the Bush administration's big government tendencies, fiscal recklessness and massive expansion of executive power at the time (and was largely cast out of the conservative coalition as a result). I opposed the Medicare prescription drug benefit as unaffordable - and no one can argue that what looks like the current healthcare reform would cripple future finances as profoundly as that Bush entitlement. But it was rammed through the Congress by some of the very people who are complaining loudest about the debt today. And unlike Obama, who has pledged either to find the money by internal reform or to take spending cuts if that fails, Bush never offered any way to pay for it - except to rack up even more Chinese IOUs.

Sure, Obama isn't ideal. I'd like a carbon tax rather than cap and trade, drastic 1986-style tax reform, and an end to the government subsidizing employer-based insurance plans. I'd also like marriage equality in every state and a flat tax and an immediate end to the military's gay ban. But unlike so many of these tea-partiers, I also realize that in real politics, you have to construct a solid coalition for all this and make arguments for it consistently (as Reagan did for decades) and have some credibility. But the GOP has been doing he opposite, fighting wars - cultural and military - instead of attending to basic fiscal responsibility and limited government. You cannot just pivot on a dime without some accounting of the recent past. Well, you can, but you look so partisan and so two-faced you'll only persuade people by ratcheting up fear and hysteria to drown out the actual issues.

But there's something else here and it has to do with a view of constitutional politics. I don't believe in politics as warfare.

While I adhere to most of the principles of the small government right, I am aware of the important balancing act of a liberal coalition in keeping this country on an even keel. I come from the Oakeshottian school that supports what he called "civil association" but also understands the necessity for the other strain in Anglo-American thought, "enterprise association." I do not want either party to have total power; and I do not believe every political argument has to be zero-sum. I loathe the cynicism that prefers trashing a new president over solving a serious social problem for people in real need.

And look: while I would like all the things my reader does in an ideal world, none of them was seriously on the table in last year's election. And the candidate who was closest to them was soundly beaten. It's perfectly proper - even admirable - to demonstrate and argue against the new administration's ideas, but it's also worth recalling that this plan in its essentials was an integral part of the president's campaign platform and his party's effective manifesto. It was debated ad nauseam last year, and Obama won by a hefty margin. The tone of these protests suggests that this is some wild power-grab. It isn't. It's a centrist and not-too-ambitious plan to fulfill a clear campaign pledge as responsibly as possible within a sensible fiscal framework.

The protestors keep saying that they want their country back. Sorry, my fellow small-governmenters, but this country is a democracy, and you didn't lose your country, you just lost an election. You had your chance for eight years. You blew it, and you lost. What Obama is doing is what he was elected to do. The principled response is not a massive, extremist-riddled hissy fit a few months in, but a constructive set of proposals to build on universal care for a more market-friendly and cost-conscious system in the future. You have to win some political credibility for that; and then you have to beat the man you lost so badly to last year. That's the civil and civilized way forward for the right. It also seems, alas, to be the one they are currently refusing to take.