How Ambitious Can We Be?

Amazing.  Silent for months on end, and a second diary in the span of two weeks.  Blame it on the snowmageddon that is blanketing the DC area, and shutting me down from going to the client’s office. 🙂  But I’ll take it, as it gives me time to cogitate publicly and ask for your thoughts as well.

Assumptions Likely To Be Wrong

First, a bunch of assumptions, most of which are likely to be wrong.

  • The Tea Party movement will be the most powerful political force in 2010 and 2012.
  • The Tea Party movement (and related groups) means a realignment of American political will that has seen what Big Government actually means for the citizens of the United States, and will hand a very strong mandate for change for all those elected in 2010 and 2012.
  • The Republicans will reform internally, rid itself of lifelong politicians more interested in doing deals and bringing home pork, and more or less absorb the Tea Party movement, resulting in fresh leadership, fresh members in Congress, Senate, and statehouses and state legislatures across the country.  In 2012, we will have a conservative Republican President, elected in a landslide of historic proportions that will once again make it clear that the American people want smaller, more limited government.
  • As a result, as of Feb 1, 2012, we will have a supermajority in both houses and the Presidency (as the Dems enjoyed throughout 2009).  All of these Republicans will be principled conservatives.

Let’s say all these things come to pass.

The question is, how ambitious can we be?  How ambitious ought we be?

Dismantling the Permanent Bureaucracy

The first issue for me is whether, if given the mandate and given supermajorities and the Presidency and all of the levers of power, we conservatives could actually roll back the creeping tide of socialism and government dependency.

Even Reagan had a tough time rolling back the creep; he may have tried to slow the growth of government, but he did not actually reduce the size of government.  In fact, government spending grew under Reagan, perhaps not as quickly as it would have, but it did grow.

To be fair, he did not have conservatives in Congress to back him fully, and that was a different world politically.  But let’s say the above Assumptions come true.

How ambitious can we be about actually cutting the size of government and eliminating the permanent bureaucracy?  What departments ought we be targeting for elimination?  How many federal civil service jobs could we think about eliminating?  National Endowment for the Arts?  Sure.  What about Federal Housing Administration?  The FDA?  OSHA?  The SEC?

And how do we ensure that the problem doesn’t return easily once the political winds shift, bringing different people into power?

This problem also extends into the states.  Does New Jersey really need a Department of Health & Senior Services?  Can the size of state governments be permanently reduced?  Ought that be a goal?

Do we go all out and attempt a return to the original Constitutional principles of Federalism (see more below) and propose a Constitutional Amendment undoing the New Deal (and post-New Deal) understandings of the Nondelegation doctrine?  Eliminate the ability of Congress to delegate regulation to agencies, and you pretty much kill the permanent bureaucracy.  But is it wise policy to eliminate administrative agencies in the 21st century?

What is the right balance to be struck here?

Dismantling Entitlement Programs

Of course, you can’t talk about cutting the size of government without talking about the third rail of American politics: the entitlement programs.  We all know that these programs are unsustainable and headed for bankruptcy.  Prog-Libs pretend there’s no problem, or just kick the can down the road; conservatives know that the welfare state is the biggest threat to liberty and individual sovereignty there is.

How ambitious ought we to be in dismantling Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, and other entitlement programs?  Do we seek reform of these programs, for example, by introducing market-based reforms such as private accounts?  Or do we go the full monty and just get rid of them all, together with the administrative apparatus that has grown up around them?

What entitlements do we keep, either out of political expediency, or out of principle?  Which do we seek to eliminate?  How ambitious can we be?  How ambitious should we be?

The New World Order?

Most of the sane recognize that the United Nations has outlived its usefulness, and indeed, has strayed far from the original vision for the UN.  The current Pax Americana, in which we guarantee the peace and security of nations that criticize us for being warmongering cowboys, subjugate our national security interests to opinions of people from Brussels and Riyadh, and pay in blood and treasure to maintain order in an ungrateful world seems unsustainable to me.

If we have the mandate, and we have the right principled conservatives in office, how far should we go in remaking our foreign policy?  Do we pull out of the UN, kick the corruptocrats out of the country, and refuse to treat Syria and Burkina Faso as equals of the greatest military power on the planet?  Or do we seek reform of international organizations, under the principle of advancing our goals and our interests?

How serious ought we to be in dealing with the wannabe regional powers like Iran?

Do we seek to actually carry out the part of the Bush Doctrine that said, “You are either with us, or with the terrorists”?

Do we actually name the enemy we are fighting — Islamists — rather than pussyfoot around to win accolades from the Nobel Committee and the “Arab street”?  Do we move towards a battle of ideologies and not just methodologies?

How ambitious can we be?  How ambitious should we be?

Back to the Future of Federalism?

Supposing that we have the mandate, and the right people in positions of power, how far do we go in restoring the original Constitutional balance between the sovereign States and the Federal Government?

Do we seek to restore the America of Tocqueville where the Tenth Amendment was a vital thing, and the Federal government had its very limited, actually enumerated powers?  Or do we leave such visions in the past (where they perhaps belong)?  Should principled conservatives be seeking to restore the primacy and vitality of the Tenth Amendment?

Do we fight for the repeal of the 17th Amendment such that the Senate is restored to the original intent of being the place where the States are represented?

Do we seek to pass a Constitutional Amendment that limits the power and scope of the Commerce Clause, that has been the source of most of the erosion of the balance between the States and the Federal governments?  Or is it enough to appoint and approve as many judges to every bench at all levels (Federal, State, Local) who are strict constructionists?

Finally… Can We Let the People Know?

Supposing for the moment that some sort of consensus on any of the above is possible, that we seek to permanently reduce the size and scope of government, return power to as local a level as possible, and reduce the burden of government both in money (taxes) and liberty (regulations), can we be open about the project to the American people?  Or do we, like the Prog-Libs, need to hide the ball, pretend that our ultimate purpose is not what it is, and work on ‘framing the message’ and such?

Your thoughts and comments are appreciated.