Monday, July 26, 2004

Sullivan Has Left the Reservation

Andrew Sullivan makes explicit what many a libertarian has been feeling about Bush for a long time: outside the War on Terrorism, there's virtually nothing on his agenda that's all that attractive to libertarians who have even a rudimentary grasp of economics. Separation of Church and State? Nope. Free Trade? Forget about it. Less Government? A totally foreign concept. Keeping the government out of people's bedrooms? You've got to be joking.

The cynic may suggest that Sullivan's Road-to-Damascus experience has occurred primarily because of the Republican Party's opposition to gay marriage rather than due to any deep concern with all the other issues that are of interest to libertarians, and I'll concede that I too harbor the suspicion that this is the case. But even granting that this is so, it does not mean that Sullivan's complaints about the Bush administration are therefore illegitimate, and an examination of just one of Bush's failings will show that Sullivan does have a point.

The tax cuts Bush has delivered are simply not sustainable given his unwillingness to keep spending in check - this is the first president since 1853 not to utilize his veto power once in a term in office, and worse still is that he's not just watched over an explosion in spending that would have put Clinton to shame, but he's actually initiated new entitlements to add to the burden of unsupportable expenditure. If this is "starving the beast", as Bush defenders like to make out, I'd hate to see what feeding the thing would look like. It may well be that Bush's policies will make it impossible for any future Democratic administration to initiate grand new programs, but the political unpalatability of cutting entitlements - especially those to older people who vote - virtually guarantees that Bush's tax cuts will be of a temporary nature, with the only net result being a wealth tranfer from today's well-heeled to tomorrow's middle-class strivers.

I'm not going to entertain the delusion that Kerry is going to be any more of a champion of individual freedom than Bush has been, but I do think that the mechanics of divided government will help to rein in the worst instincts of those in his party, and the uncompetitive nature of most House races ensures that the odds of the Democratic Party gaining control of that chamber are, to put it mildly, minimal. As such, I am not as worried as some are about the possibility of a Kerry presidency. Also factoring into my calculations is the reality that a government with the President and Both Houses of Congress from the same party finds it hard to disagree in public, meaning that all sorts of horrible ideas get passed into law in the name of party solidarity. This is the prime reason why Bush has been so reluctant to veto irresponsible spending, and with him out of office, it will go away. I'm no culture warrior, and too much "God" rhetoric from politicians grates on my sensibilities, so the demise of that part of Bush's agenda that appeals to social conservatives will be no loss as far as I'm concerned.