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There is Still Hope Hope and Change in the Real World

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Not Exactly Piracy and Plunder

by Christopher Chantrill
October 29, 2008 at 8:22 pm


THE LAST time the United States experienced a meltdown like the one we are currently experiencing on President Bush’s watch, our Democratic friends got to occupy the presidency for four consecutive terms and won congressional hegemony for half a century.

At the nadir of Republican fortunes after the 1936 election the US Senate was Democratic by 76 to 18, and the House was Democratic by 334-88. You could look it up at usstuckonstupid.com. Talk about a filibuster-proof Congress!

Eventually a political movement emerged, headed by William F. Buckley, Jr., “standing athwart history shouting: Stop!” It revived the economy, won the Cold War, and took a tentative stab at the welfare state with a reform of the most egregious of the 70-odd welfare programs of the United States goverments.

But all good things must come to an end, or at the very least, must go in cycles, and many conservatives are succumbing to political panic to match the financial panic they feel when the 401K statement arrives in the mail box.

A liberal supermajority, many people warn, could be the end of the United States as we know it.

But let us not be swayed by mere emotion. Let us take a look at the facts. And the best facts are available at usgovernmentspending.com, a global resource bursting with over half a million records of government spending. Let us look at the four big domestic spending programs then and now—in the fateful year of 1929 and the mortgage meltdown year of 2008. You can play around with the chart by clicking here.

There they are: government pensions, government health care, government education, and government welfare. From a puny level of three percent of Gross Domestic Product in 1929 these programs have grown to about 21 percent of GDP. That is what 80 years of spend, tax, and elect have achieved. We know, of course, that government pensions (including Social Security and welfare) are pure payoffs to Democratic political supporters. The other two ribbons of largesse, government education and government health care, seem almost to qualify as simple transfer programs for all that they deliver services that many men and women desire.

But that is politics. When any movement seizes political power, whether by direct civil war and conquest or by the modern equivalent, the democratic election, it gets to reward its loyal servitors. It’s not exactly piracy and plunder, but it’s the modern equivalent.

Of course there is no end to the appetite of political servitors, and it appears, this fall, that the conservative interregnum of the last 30 years has provoked the servitors of the government sector into a kind of appetitive frenzy.

But a look at the chart makes you wonder: Why the frenzy? Were the servitors’ pensions cut? No. Was government health care cut? No, instead it has increased substantially on Bush’s watch. Was education cut? Not at all, it is persistently increasing its share of the national product. Only welfare shows a modest cut from the go-go years between 1975 and 1995, so it makes sense that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) is generously proposing a per-capita annual payment to “95 percent” of taxpayers to compensate the suffering multitudes for the Reagan-Bush “cuts.”

Here’s a fearless prediction: win or lose, Barack Obama is bound to disappoint his supporters. It is one thing to increase government transfers from three percent of GDP to 21 percent over the best part of a century. Evidently the national economy can afford a deadweight cost of 21 percent of GDP spent on political patronage. It is another thing to push it up from there, on the top of major increases in Social Security, government employee pensions, and Medicare already “baked into the cake.” There isn’t going to be much change, not even if you define it as more of the same.

Yet there is a growing fear of this more-of-the-same, and it has got conservatives in a funk. Today, even the ebullient Mark Steyn was somber. “If a majority of Americans want [a Declaration of Dependence], we holdouts must respect their choice.”

Here’s hoping that they don’t.

But if we must retreat to Valley Forge and hear once more the old lament of Thomas Paine from the dark days of the winter of 1776: “these are the times that try men’s souls,” let us do something about it. Let us report at once to training camp and get to work to raise our game.

The first thing we do, let us retire the old resolve to “stand athwart history” and replace it with a new vision to best our liberal friends in everything, from philosophy to politics, from economic policy to education, and from health care to culture. If there is one thing we have learned over the Reagan-Bush years, it is that conservatives cannot transform America as a subculture. We must become the reigning culture of America.

But let this always be our watchword: Let us always do the right thing.

If we do the right thing then we will come once again to deserve the confidence of the American people, and the American people, practical and sensible as they are, will once more pass the baton to us. And it will be sooner than we think.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison

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Francis Fukuyama, Trust

Hugo on Genius

“Tear down theory, poetic systems... No more rules, no more models... Genius conjures up rather than learns... ” —Victor Hugo
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E. G. West, Education and the State

Faith & Purpose

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Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy

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