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It's Big Government, Stupid

- Abstract

Journalists who covered Patrick J. Buchanan’s abortive 1992 presidential campaign heard some remarkably stinging invective from him about the crushing burden of Big Government. When pressed for details, however, Buchanan could bring himself to name only three specific civilian budget cuts. He would repeal half the 1990 congressional pay raise, eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, and end all foreign-aid programs—for a grand-total savings of some $13.2 billion. Yet in the 1992 fiscal year, the United States government spent nearly $1.5 trillion, an amount equal to the entire gross domestic product of united Germany. From that vast ocean of money, fed by roaring rivers of unnecessary and destructive spending, greasy with floating blobs of waste, the man who regards himself as the most fearless conservative in America would blot up rather less than 1 percent.

However marginal some of Buchanan’s views may be, his timidity in the face of Big Government is all too typical of American conservatives, including even Ronald Reagan. Reagan owed his 1980 presidential victory to what seemed at the time an inspired political stroke. There would be no more threats to throw widows out into the snow, no more Taft- and Goldwater-style calls for self-reliance, cheese-paring, and pay-as-you-go, no more flinty frugality. Rather than fight and lose the battle over the welfare state for the hundredth time, Reagan would change the subject from spending to taxes. Later, after the tax cuts had worked their supply-side magic in the form of increased revenue, there would be plenty of time to start chopping away at the excesses of Big Government.

About the Author

David Frum is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a columnist for National Review Online.