Friday, December 19, 2008

The Big Lie

Quin Hillyer argues that limiting big government isn't just a good principle for Republicans, but historically has been good politics for them as well. He proves his point through the brilliant argumentative strategy of (a) defining "big government" only to encompass things that conservatives dislike (no critique of the partial-birth abortion ban here!), (b) excluding all counter-examples, like the 2000, 2002, and 2004 elections where George W. Bush was specifically running on big government conservatism, as outliers, and (c) making believe that Republican losses which clearly stemmed from other factors are really a result of having too loose a grip on the purse-strings. Republicans didn't lose in 1998 because they looked like crazed maniacs pursuing a broadly unpopular impeachment investigation which was the biggest political news story in a decade. No, the problem was they relaxed spending constraints in order to keep moderate GOP representatives on board! I only missed the scoop because I'm tainted by beltway-insiderism.

My understanding of the reality is that (a) Americans are opposed to "big government" in the abstract and (b) they, for all practical purposes, support every specific manifestation of big government with the exception of (other districts') pork -- which is a relatively insignificant portion of the federal budget anyway. As much as Hillyer might wish it were so, there is no proof that voting patterns in 2008 can be explained through broad-based disgust with the Medicare expansion. Indeed, if anything 2008 represented a broad repudiation of conservative purism -- there were several cases of Democrats winning districts they had no business competing in specifically because the local Republicans had replaced moderate incumbents with right-wing crazies (ID-01, MD-01, MI-07).

Now, is it true that different messages may work better in different places, and a principled small-government strategy might be a winner in some contested districts? Sure. But Hillyer's Palin-esque insistence that he's got the pulse of "real America" ("Washington might not have recognized it, but those of us outside the elite cultural echo chamber (I was in Mobile, Alabama, at the time) heard [disgust about big spending] not just among politicos but out on the street, quite regularly and quite vociferously.") is a sure-fire way to insure that the GOP remains a party that can only win in, well, Mobile, Alabama.

Hey, best of luck though.

1 comment:

PG said...

This reminds me of the absurd conservatives who apparently believe that the best way to figure out why the Big Three are failing while the foreign companies succeed is not to scrutinize the differences between the two groups, but to assume that something imposing a cost on ALL car companies must in some mysterious way be wot did GM in.

The parts of the country Republicans ought to be investigating with all their might are the counties that supported Republicans in 2000, 2002 and 2004 but went for Democrats in 2006 and/or 2008. House races probably are the best metric. What was different this time? The party faithful aren't the question; the middle is. And fight the temptation to discount increased black turnout -- black people can vote, too, and it's worthwhile to ask why they mostly weren't voting Republican.