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Bush Legacy: Less Freedom

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If anyone still looks to the Republican party of President George W. Bush for limits on government power, it’s long past time to look elsewhere.

They certainly won’t be found among the Democrats either. But this is no reason for Pollyannaish rhapsodies about the Republicans, who are more offensive than the other guys because they still pay lip service to limits. That is, they insult our intelligence more than the Democrats.

To his sterling government-bloating record — that includes a larger role for Washington in education, ballooning farm subsidies, steel tariffs (since removed), a bigger Medicare, more domestic spying, weakening of habeas corpus, and a doctrine of preventive war — President Bush has now proposed spending a couple of hundred billion dollars for a manned base on the moon and to explore Mars, and a billion and a half dollars to promote marriage here on earth, or at least in the United States. Given his global focus, why limit marriage counseling to this country?

Considering that the choice in November will be between two men who both want bigger government (it won’t matter who the Democrat is), one wonders how a serious candidate would be received if he actually proposed to scale back the monstrosity we currently labor under. Limitations on power — what a concept!

Popular political debate has been reduced to trivialities. The contenders discuss how the United States should manage the world, not whether it should. They argue about how big Medicare should be, not whether the taxpayers should be compelled to provide medical care to retirees. They bicker over how bureaucrats should manage our economic affairs, not whether they should be doing it at all.

We shouldn’t be surprised by Bush’s record. He gave us early warning. It was his supporters inside the GOP establishment who were intent on removing from the party platform the long unkept promise to abolish the Department of Education. When renegades tried to save that plank, the Bush juggernaut crushed them. The old pledge to get rid of the Department of Energy suffered a similar fate.

Bush from the start was determined not to be identified with Ronald Reagan’s anti-government rhetoric (even if he never really meant it). No one would ever accuse Bush of believing “government is the problem not the solution.”

Oh sure, he sometimes refers to tax revenues as the people’s, not the government’s, money when he’s pushing a modest tax-rate reduction. But you know his heart’s not in it. How do we know? Because his tax cuts are small and because spending is skyrocketing. Tax revenues do not give a full picture of the burden of government. Spending is a far more complete measure. If taxes go down but spending goes up — as it has been doing dramatically — the people still have to pay for it. They will pay for it in indirect, less visible ways, such as inflation and government borrowing. Bush’s tax cuts are no bargain.

This president has been presiding over the largest spending increases since Lyndon Johnson. Domestic and military spending are on the rise. He’s been in office three years and he hasn’t yet figured out where they keep the veto pen. In 36 months he has yet to reject a single bill. Does that sound like a commitment to smaller government?

The Bushes are political creatures and big-government men. George I promised a “kinder, gentler government,” which could only have meant that he did not believe the anti-government things his patron Reagan had said. George II continued the Bush tradition with his talk about “compassionate conservatism.” This was his subtle way of saying that restrained government was cruel.

There’s no deep philosophy here, just power lust. George W. Bush wants a second term, and nothing is going to stop him. Hence, the “vision thing.”

So he’ll send men to the moon and Mars, and he’ll promote marriage at a colossal waste of taxpayer money. Government cannot grow without liberty and self-responsibility shrinking. That will be the Bush legacy.

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    Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.