Tuesday, December 02, 2003


Libertarians and libertarian conservatives such as myself have been totally appalled at the way the present Bush administration has expanded the size of the U.S. government -- first with post 9/11 security measures and now with the prescription drug benefit for seniors. Where has the Reagan cutback mentality that launched America's long economic boom gone?

A controversial NYT article by Fred Barnes has got me thinking, however. We must not forget that conservatism is NOT libertarianism. From Edmund Burke onwards, conservatives have always seen SOME role for government. And protecting the country from outside enemies is absolutely one of those proper roles of government. Outside the anarcho-capitalist camp, even most libertarians would agree with that one. So GWB's post 9/11 security buildup is a very proper conservative thing to do, even if -- as one expects from a government activity -- its excecution is hamfisted.

And the Afghanistan/Iraq interventions are equally well within conservative traditions. Whatever else one may say about conservatives they have always been strongly motivated by caution -- most notably by caution about sweeping change to society's existing arrangements -- but caution above all. And given the terrible disasters that Islamic terrorists are now known to be capable of inflicting on America, it is surely the height of caution to go to the breeding ground of the terrorists and try to root out both the terrorists and those who aid and abet them.

And, as Fred Barnes pointed out, the prescription drug benefit is well targeted too. Older people are one of the major conservative groupings in society. Age and experience has taught them caution. So if a political party leaves it to its opposition to woo away its own support base, it is moronic indeed. That they are the realists is another historic claim of conservatives and the political reality is that if the GOP had not supported the prescription drug push, it would have just have sent a big slice of elderly GOP voters off to vote for the Dems instead. It may be worth noting that Australia's conservative government is in the midst of expanding it's Medicare expenditures too.

So, much as we may regret the Bush-era expansion of government, it may be the price we have to pay for GWB's more active and realistic approach to protecting American security against the Islamic threat. If Al Gore had been in charge, the U.S. would probably still have got the prescription drug benefit but with United Nations resolutions being the only measures taken to counter the Islamic threat.


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