I remember when George W. Bush chose Dick Cheney as his running mate. An African-American Republican friend of mine was rather disappointed. “This guy has a record that is so conservative. More than that, it is unthinkingly conservative,” he said.
And my friend’s right about Cheney’s record being conservative, for, as a congressman from Wyoming, he consistently voted against federal programs, including Head Start and the Department of Education.
How did Cheney become so conservative? Interestingly, he was not really a part of the conservative movement. He did not campaign for Barry Goldwater in 1964, for example. When he first went to Washington, D.C., he didn’t really have any strong ideological commitments. But he became a conservative through his experience in government.
Stephen F. Hayes states the following in his book, Cheney: The Untold Story of America’s Most Powerful and Controversial Vice President (New York: HarperCollins, 2007):
“Cheney had come to Washington without a definite political philosophy. Though he had worked for Republicans in state politics, he had not been a partisan. Most young people came to Washington to end the Vietnam War, or to help Lyndon B. Johnson win the War on Poverty, or because they had walked precincts for Senator Barry Goldwater or passed out leaflets for Richard Nixon. They came with plans to change the world or at least to help their side.
“By contrast, Cheney’s initial interest in national politics was procedural and methodological, almost technical. He was fascinated by how things were done in Washington, why some programs worked and others didn’t, why some policies made sense and others seemed doomed to fail. It was the political science professor in him, detached and almost aloof.
“His experience in the Nixon administration began to change that. He saw well-intentioned government programs that solved one problem and created a dozen others. A plan by the Office of Economic Opportunity to train migrant workers to grow azaleas in South Carolina would have provided jobs for the workers but destroyed the market for azaleas in the process. Need-based assistance to the poorest parts of the country was diverted to ‘community-action programs’ that did little more than line the pockets of local politicians. Through the Cost of Living Council, the IRS targeted small businesses because their owners wanted to give employees a raise. Grocery stores had to fight with the federal government to raise the price of a dozen eggs. To protect the American public, the Price Commission directed McDonald’s to reduce the price of Quarter-Pounders. To Cheney, these experiences not only demonstrated the inherent inefficiencies of big government but seemed to confirm the wisdom of individualism and self-reliance, the cardinal virtues of his home state” (71-72).
Yeah, seeing the effects of government policies can shake one’s faith in big government!