Bill Kristol Plays Footsie With David Brooks In the New York Times

They could have at least gotten a room, but no, they wanted to let us all watch.

After multiple columns of David Brooks smacking lips to turn off conservatives, Bill Kristol rises to the challenge this morning. It is the same drum beat. Conservatives should shut up about small government.

So talk of small government may be music to conservative ears, but it’s not to the public as a whole. This isn’t to say the public is fond of big-government liberalism. It’s just that what’s politically vulnerable about big-government liberalism is more the liberalism than the big government. (Besides, the public knows that government’s not going to shrink much no matter who’s in power.)

Now it’s true that the size of the government and the modern liberal agenda are connected. It’s also true that modern conservatism has to include a strong commitment to limited (though energetic) government and to constitutional (though not necessarily small or weak) government. Still, there’s a difference between a conservatism that is concerned with limited and constitutional government and one that focuses on simply opposing big government.

First Kristol wants to rub our nose in the fact that government increased under Republicans and then wants to kick us for even suggesting the government should be smaller. In the process, he profoundly misses the point.

Let me reciprocate and rub Kristol’s nose in the fact that his idea of “big government conservatism” is being driven from office by the American people. He conveniently ignores that fact. He and his friends at the Weekly Standard have, for the longest time, championed the Bushies as the model — big government and conservative. Guess what? The American public isn’t buying it.

Let me also point out that Kristol’s be all, end all — the Presidency of John McCain — was rejected by the American people.

Unperturbed, both he and Brooks still want conservatives to throw the small government guys out of the party, or at least have them shut the hell up, while the public at large continues castrating and killing Kristol’s and Brook’s own team of big government liberals in sheep’s clothing.

Let’s get to the heart of the matter here.

Kristol writes

there’s a difference between a conservatism that is concerned with limited and constitutional government and one that focuses on simply opposing big government.

But that is such a canard. Small government conservatives are focused on reining in government precisely because they believe in a limited, constitutional government.

Has Kristol just been on a drunken Weekly Standard cruise for the past thirty years to have missed that? Did he totally ignore the few times Ron Paul actually said something that made sense? Or is he just intentionally throwing up some false contrasts? Because look what he does in his transition.

He embraces a conservatism with “limited and constitutional government” as its bedrock and then says

If you’re a small-government conservative, you’ll tend to oppose the bailouts, period. If you more or less accept big government, you’ll be open to the government’s stepping in to save the financial system, or the auto industry.

Really? Seriously? I think not.

No, if you are for a limited, constitutional government you will be inclined to say government should not interfere in the free market. If you are for limited, constitutional government you will be inclined to say Congress should not try to fix a mess that it by and large created. If you are for limited, constitutional government, you will be inclined to think Congress is the legislative branch of the United States government, not a car manufacturer, which is what it would become under its bailout plan.

In fact, a person who really is for limited, constitutional government would recognize that the present government is doing more that it should or ought to and would be in favor of scaling it back. But that’s not Bill Kristol. He is trying to have it both ways. He is trying to claim he is a conservative in favor of limited government, but does his best to put up a smoke screen to distract from the fact that he is not.

Bill Kristol wants you to think he wants it both ways, but he really wants John McCain’s brand of big government — something the American people rejected and Kristol cannot figure out why.

Let me deal with one more canard.

Bill Kristol writes:

Jeb Bush, now considering a Senate run in 2010, even went so far as to tell Politico last month, “There should not be such a thing as a big-government Republican.”

Really? Jeb Bush was a successful and popular conservative governor of Florida, with tax cuts, policy reforms and privatizations of government services to show for his time in office. Still, in his two terms state spending increased over 50 percent — a rate faster than inflation plus population growth. It turns out, in the real world of Republican governance, that there aren’t a whole lot of small-government Republicans.

Five Republicans have won the presidency since 1932: Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and the two George Bushes. Only Reagan was even close to being a small-government conservative …. And Reagan’s record as governor and president wasn’t a particularly government-slashing one.

Kristol ignores two large and very important points.

On Jeb Bush, he ignores the fact that Bush was a governor, not President. Small government conservatives are, by and large, concerned with the growth and size of the federal government. Why? Read the tenth amendment. The federal government has enumerated powers beyond which it cannot grow. The states have no such restriction beyond their own constitutions.

On Jeb Bush and Ronald Reagan both, Kristol conveniently ignores the other issue: where did government grow? Under both Jeb Bush in Florida and Ronald Reagan as President, the government did grow. But government grew in areas that it constitutionally, legitimately could grow, e.g. schools in Florida and defense in the federal government.

See, Bill Kristol thinks small government conservatives ride on the short bus on which so many readers of the New York Times ride. Small government conservatives actually recognize that government is going to grow. The question is: where should government grow? Kristol would have it grow in all areas with a bunch of technocrats managing the growth. Small government conservatives would have it grow in constitutional legitimate areas and would have it shrink in constitutionally illegitimate areas.

Kristol should know that, of course, but he is too interested in defining conservatives out of the conservative movement so he can feel more at home.