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A return to big government?

Ben Linskey | Monday, March 2, 2009

“From everything I’ve seen, it looks like the era of big government spending is back,” stammered an evidently shocked and horrified Rep. John Boehner after witnessing Barack Obama’s first address to a joint session of Congress. Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee went further, proclaiming that “a Union of American Socialist Republics is being born.”

One would be forgiven for wondering whether these gentlemen have been living in some sort of alternate universe for the past eight years. As most of us residing in the real world know, the “era of big government spending” isn’t back – it never went anywhere to begin with. And if Mike Huckabee is correct in his comparison of the United States to the USSR, then one might say that George W. Bush is our nation’s very own Vladimir Lenin.

Perhaps conservatives could use a quick reminder of the Bush administration’s actions over the past eight years. George W. Bush oversaw an unprecedented growth in federal spending, culminating in a record $438 billion deficit during his last year in office. He “spent more taxpayer money on issuing and enforcing regulations than any previous administration in U.S. history,” concluded George Mason economist Veronique de Rugy in an analysis published in the Jan. 2009 issue of Reason magazine. Bush embroiled the U.S. in two wars in the Middle East, neither of which has yet reached a conclusion. The Iraq War, in particular, was premised on lies and has cost more than 4,000 U.S. lives and one trillion dollars. Bush consistently displayed contempt for the Constitution’s guarantees of civil liberties, asserting his administration’s authority to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens without trial. He oversaw a new prescription drug benefit, signed into law the disastrous No Child Left Behind Act and gave his stamp of approval to an unconstitutional expansion of campaign finance regulations which stifled Americans’ right to free political speech. And in the final months of his administration, Bush conspired with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to bail out failing Wall Street firms and put America’s banks on the road to nationalization. Does that look like small government to you?

Let’s compare this record to the Obama administration’s actions to date. Mr. Obama just signed a $787 billion stimulus bill that will further increase the spiraling national debt. He’s made it clear that his administration intends to further expand costly regulations. Thankfully, Obama has announced a plan to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of 2011, but he has decided to send 17,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. Meanwhile, his administration has already stepped up U.S. military activity in Pakistan.

Obama doesn’t seem to think much more highly of the Constitution than his predecessor, either. Though he has ordered the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, his administration does not plan to significantly alter Bush’s policy of indefinitely holding prisoners deemed part of the “war on terror.” Nor has the Obama administration indicated that it will end the practice of “rendition,” the procedure by which individuals are kidnapped by the CIA, taken to secret overseas prisons and tortured. Furthermore, the administration’s lawyers recently mirrored the Bush administration by invoking the unconstitutional state secrets privilege in a terrorism case, much to the surprise of the presiding judge. All the while, the government’s stake in major U.S. banks is growing and President Obama is just beginning to reveal his plans for a host of new domestic programs. This all seems awfully familiar, no?

What are we to make of these striking similarities? Neither Republicans nor Democrats want you to know this, but the truth is that the two major parties fundamentally agree on most basic issues. Both are more than willing to accept an ever-expanding state if it means reelection in November. Think back to the last few campaign seasons. When was the last time you heard candidates debate the fundamental questions of the proper size and role of government? You probably never did. Instead, politicians routinely focus on the divisive and ultimately meaningless “culture wars” and accuse each other of being communists or reflexive free market ideologues. (If only the latter were true!)

Next year, we will once again go to the polls for Congressional elections. When that time comes, ignore the candidates’ words and look at their records. With the exception of a select few individuals, neither Democratic nor Republican politicians have any interest in shrinking the size of government. Americans deserve better than the cyclical dishonesty of the two-party system. But we can only escape if we stop casting our votes for the big-government demagogues of the left and right. So in the future, don’t waste your time hoping for “change” from the Democrats or the GOP. If you want an end to unrestrained spending, endless regulation, destructive foreign policy, tyrannical abuse of civil liberties and incessant government meddling in the economy, vote for the only party that supports shrinking the size and scope of government across the board. Vote Libertarian.

Ben Linskey, a sophomore majoring in political science and philosophy, is co-president of the College Libertarians. He can be contacted at blinskey@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.