Frum and the Relevance of Less Government

In the waiting room a few days ago (to see my therapist), I read David Frum’s Newsweek article against Rush Limbaugh, Why Rush is Wrong.

Frum argues that the conservative message of less government will not mobilize voters as it did in the 1970’s:

The conservatism we know evolved in the 1970s to meet a very specific set of dangers and challenges: inflation, slow growth, energy shortages, unemployment, rising welfare dependency. In every one of those problems, big government was the direct and immediate culprit. Roll back government, and you solved the problem. Government is implicated in many of today’s top domestic concerns as well…But the connection between big government and today’s most pressing problems is not as close or as pressing as it was 27 years ago. So, unsurprisingly, the anti-big-government message does not mobilize the public the way it once did.

To my surprise, however, Frum is still somewhat of a conservative. He laments: Decisions that will haunt American taxpayers for generations have been made with hardly a debate. The federal government will pay more of the cost for Medicaid, it will expand the SCHIP program for young children, it will borrow trillions of dollars to expand the national debt to levels unseen since WWII. And, while he maintains that Republicans should focus on the high cost of health care rather than tax cuts, he is firm that their proposed solution should be “free market health-care reform,” not socialism.

I think Frum has a lot of good ideas, but I’d hardly call a commitment to less government politically irrelevant. There are still people who believe that big government suppresses the economy and liberty. I recently checked out a 2006 book, Size Matters: How Big Government Puts the Squeeze on America’s Families, Finances, and Freedom (and Limits the Pursuit of Happiness, by Joel Miller. In some cases, oppressive government intervention is obvious to Americans, for I still hear middle-class people complain about taxes and regulations they deem unreasonable.

In other cases, many don’t seem to realize that the problems the government claims it wants to solve may be caused by government in the first place. How many Americans know that the Community Reinvestment Act pressured lenders to make high-risk loans, which resulted in our current economic crisis?

Joel Miller argues that big government drives up the cost of health care, and, while I haven’t gotten to that part of the book yet, I’ve heard from others how that could be the case. Under Ben Witherington’s posts ‘Sicko’– It’s Enough to make you ill and Canadian Nurses love ‘Sicko’: Hand out free tickets to help prevent the Canadian system going the American way, there were commenters who showed how government over-regulation limits the supply of hospitals in America, driving up the cost of health care. Michael Tanner documents in Leviathan on the Right that the Republicans in Congress under Newt Gingrich sought to restrict hospital competition. And, on the radio a few nights ago, conservative conspiracy theorist Dr. Stanley Monteith (a physician) said that the feds really clamped down on county clinics, which provided inexpensive health care. Frum assumes that government intervention is no longer a problem, when it very well may be.

I also think that a message of fiscal responsibility can be popular with a lot of Americans. During the election, I heard Obama supporters lament that the Bush-deficits would have to be paid by our children. And one criticized Governor Sarah Palin for taking out a bond, which future generations of Alaskans would have to pay.

One thing Frum’s article brought to my attention is that Obama’s S-CHIP expansion can easily become another entitlement. To be honest, I don’t give a flying flip about most conservative critiques of the expansion. It covers the middle class? Heck, the middle class can use help with their high premiums and health care costs! People would leave private insurers for the government program? Oh well! The private insurers will have to compete for once. Poor babies! But another entitlement? That’s something that concerns me, especially since the cost of our current entitlements continues to go up, leading many to forecast a significantly higher tax burden for future generations.

Maybe less government can be a powerful message, if Republicans articulate it well and actually practice what they preach.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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