Lot’s of blogs are busy ( Tapped LRC Sullivan, Yglesias somewhere) being amused at right-wing martyr Bruce Bartlett, who was just fired from his think-tank for writing a book criticizing Bush “Imposter: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy”, as emblematic of the collapse among the intellectual right-wingers, regarding disagreement on discretionary spending and Harriet Miers.
For one: it’s one thing to be fired for writing an editorial critical of a Presidential decision. Then his employer, the National Center for Policy Analysis, would just be being petty. It’s another thing to write and publicize a book that outright calls the leader of your movement an “Imposter”. If a TNR writer had written a 90’s book called “Scumbag: Why Bill Clinton’s Ethics Are Stopping Liberal Programs” I don’t think he or she would have been appreciated. Of course, I realize that it is just de rigeur for controversial conservative tracts to pick extremely incendiary names (Treason, Slander, Driving Liberal Insane, etc)… but yes, when you have incendiary tactics, maintaining coalitions under stress is difficult.
I gotta say, the book’s title amuses me. During the Clinton years whenever I got in an argument over politics, I would bring up that the deficit increased vastly under Reagan, from less than a trillion to more than four trillion. The Republican-apologist would just blame the Democrats in Congress, making the whole thing a wash. Reagan had vision apparently, but no responsibility for carrying it out besides strident rhetoric. You have to ask yourself whether increasing military spending and lowering taxes is a good thing for the deficit if you aren’t going to be able to lower domestic spending. Or at least, any serious Republican in the 80’s should have.
But they didn’t, and then they got complete control of the federal government in 2001 and… it was just like the 80’s. Increases in military spending, tax cuts, and oddly unrelenting domestic spending. So what was Reagan’s legacy? The man was in power for 8 years, and not a single year did the government shrink as a percentage of GDP. And conservatives, ask yourselves, has anyone else been better? Bush I, Nixon, Eisenhower, none were known for successful small-government-ness.
In a more empathetic way of looking at things, I feel really bad for Bruce and many other small government conservatives. For liberals and engaged moderates, this has been a very frustrating interegnum between nice moderate liberal governance that will in the end try to lift people out of poverty and make the world a nicey-nice place. Many people might have died and lives ruined, but the liberal vision of government is still going to happen, and in fact as Ezra points out much of Bush's presidency has only confirmed that.
But small government conservatives are finally realizing, it's over. Whether it be an idiosyncratic betrayal, or just a fact that giving rich elites a great deal of power does not cause them to dial down the power, and small government causes simply are not going to even be feasible to propose for many years to come.