DEAD RIGHT. As I believe Matt and others have noted before, David Frum could be a candid and sharp conservative political observer before he descended into Bush hagiography and addled foreign policy nuttiness. His new online Cato essay on the death of small government Republicanism is good and worth reading (and not merely because it provides fodder for this funny gotcha from Jon Chait). Frum's argument is that in the mid-1990s "the newly elected Republican congressional majority enjoyed what we can now see was the fairest opportunity in half a century to reduce the size and cost of the federal government," and when they failed, the small government window basically closed: "the state is growing again -- and it is preprogrammed to carry on growing," while "the day in which we could look to the GOP to have an affirmative small-government vision of its own has´┐Żdefinitively passed."

I think Frum's take is mostly right, though I don't really think a serious small-government constituency was ever as big or significant on the ground as he does and if anything his political analysis, like that of a lot of conservative intellectuals, isn't sufficiently colored by some good old public choice (or vulgar Marxist materialist) cynicism about interest groups and political coalitions. There just isn't a constituency for a serious small-government political program -- and as we've seen, it isn't even just the famously untouchable middle class entitlements that GOP majorities have found impossible to roll back due to popular opposition, it's tons of stuff the government does. Maybe I'll be proven all wrong by an electoral earthquake in November sparked by Americans' outrage over earmarks (a.k.a. pork, a.k.a. "the stuff politicians get government to fund to please their constituents"), but the evidence for the likelihood of such an occurrence is, so far, mighty thin.

--Sam Rosenfeld

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