Parent-in-chief

November 08, 2005|By DAVID WHITE

WASHINGTON -- The heart of the Republican Party has always been in conflict. On one side are those who support greater liberty; on the other, those who support more morality. William F. Buckley brought those factions together for the conservative intelligentsia, creating a movement that catapulted Ronald Reagan to the White House and produced today's Republican majority.

George W. Bush chose sides in this conflict, tearing the conservative heart in two. His vision for morality-centered governance has transformed the GOP into a party that no longer believes in limited government and individual liberty but instead advocates expanding the size, scope and authority of the federal government at a rate that even Democrats find shocking. There is no longer a small-government party in the nation's capital; there are just different visions of what big government means. If this doesn't change, the entire GOP might sink with the Bush presidency.

Mr. Bush's vision for governance shouldn't surprise anyone. In September, his chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., told a group of Republicans that Mr. Bush sees America as a "10-year-old child" in need of parental protection.

Examples of the "parent-in-chief" abound. According to a study by the American Enterprise Institute, inflation-adjusted discretionary spending increased by 35.1 percent in Mr. Bush's first term, outpacing even the once-unfathomable benchmark of 33.4 percent set by Lyndon Johnson. He has increased funding for the Education Department by 67.6 percent and usurped state power in education. He has pushed through the largest expansion of Medicare in history, signed tariffs on steel and increased the budget of every Cabinet agency. Even LBJ, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton could never claim such a feat.

Mr. Bush's vision for big-government moralism has meant dedicating millions of new dollars to high-school drug testing and abstinence programs, funneling enormous amounts to religious organizations, limiting stem-cell research and supporting a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

And just last month, the Justice Department began recruiting FBI agents for their newly launched anti-pornography squad - described as a "top priority" of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. In Mr. Bush's world, there's no such thing as federalism, and there's no limit to what the government can do.

But even though Americans are sick and tired of Republicans in their bedrooms, they're still leery of Democrats in their wallets. The door is thus open for a new brand of conservatism, and it's likely to leave the morality wing by the wayside - and welcome back those who support limited government. Proof can be found by comparing today's elections in Virginia and New York City.

In red state Virginia, Republican Jerry W. Kilgore is in the fight of his life. Taking a page from Mr. Bush's playbook, Mr. Kilgore has promised the moon, pretended it's free and desperately tried to woo "values" voters. But moral issues such as gay marriage and abortion didn't play well this year, so instead, Mr. Kilgore ran a campaign focused almost exclusively on the death penalty.

But Mr. Kilgore pulled his death penalty ads two weeks ago, even though 72 percent of Virginians support the death penalty. Apparently, accusing your challenger of an unwillingness to execute Adolf Hitler strikes voters as offensive. Thus, the "values" campaign was terminated.

New York City, of course, is hardly a conservative stronghold. Yet for the fourth straight election, New Yorkers are poised to elect a (nominally) Republican mayor. And in the most recent Quinnipiac poll, incumbent Michael R. Bloomberg was up by the remarkable margin of 31 points. He seems destined to surpass the landslide margin reached by Rudolph W. Giuliani in 1997, when Mr. Giuliani won with 57 percent of the vote.

Even The New York Times' editorial page - typically allergic to Republicans -"enthusiastically" endorsed Mr. Bloomberg.

Mr. Bloomberg has never embraced Mr. Bush, and Mr. Kilgore, after running as a Bush clone for most of the campaign, recently has run away from the president and his brand of conservatism. He recently skipped a Bush speech in Virginia.

Many contend that Mr. Bloomberg and New York aren't models for the Republican Party. But even in California, where the polls have only recently gone sour for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, his ballot initiatives met a receptive audience even though three of the four took on the public employee unions and the fourth threatened the Democratic lock on California's congressional delegation.

And in Massachusetts, where rumors of Gov. Mitt Romney's departure are setting the stage for 2006, the next governor may be Christy Mihos - a self-made millionaire who supports abortion rights and gay marriage. His election would result in Massachusetts' fifth straight Republican governor.

Such achievements illustrate the continuing weakness of the Democratic Party. Even on their home turf, Democrats have a tough time when matched against Republicans who favor choices instead of sermons, and government efficiency instead of pork.

If Republicans continue to follow the "parent-in-chief" model of Mr. Bush, their power will wither away. But if they appeal to small-government conservatives and moderates, the GOP can survive.

Hey Rudy, are you listening?

David White is assistant editor of The American Enterprise, a publication of the American Enterprise Institute. His e-mail address is dwhite@AEI.org.

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