Karl Rove’s Big-Government Myth

Karl Rove, the architect of Republican victories in 2000 and 2004 and Democratic victories in 2006 and 2008, denounces President Obama’s “spending binge” and “liberal activism” as described in the State of the Union address. The Wall Street Journal’s tagline on the column is, “On Tuesday, Republicans offered an alternative to the president’s big-government vision.” What Rove omits is that he and President Bush started the spending binge, delivered big government, and indeed came into office with a big-government vision, as Ed Crane pointed out in 1999.

Just take a look at the analysis in Rove’s Wall Street Journal column:

Most of his hour-long speech was a paean to liberal activism, as the president called for redoubling outlays on high-speed rail and “countless” green energy jobs.

Liberal boondogglery indeed. But Rove’s former colleague, White House speechwriter Michael Gerson, wrote on the same day in his Washington Post column:

 In his 2006 State of the Union address, which I helped write, President George W. Bush proposed a 22 percent increase in clean-energy research at the Energy Department, a doubling of basic research in the physical sciences and the training of 70,000 high school teachers to instruct Advanced Placement courses in math and science. I have no idea if these “investments” passed or made much difference. I doubt anyone knows.

Green nonsense is rampant in Washington.

Rove criticizes Obama for

a federal budget that’s increased 25% in two years, raising government’s share of GDP to 25% from roughly 20%.

Obama is a world-class spender. But spending increased 83 percent during Bush’s presidency, from $1.863 trillion to $3.414 trillion. He increased federal spending faster than any president since Lyndon Johnson. And yes, Obama is pushing the government’s share of GDP up; but Bush increased the federal government’s share of GDP by 2.2 percentage points, before the financial crisis, the bailouts, and TARP.

Rove writes:

The challenge is about more than budgets and debt. It is about government’s basic purposes and its role in our lives. If we don’t act soon, the nature of American society will change in deep, lasting ways.

Yes, that is the real problem. I have written critically of Obama’s “sweeping statist agenda.” But the Bush administration gave us stepped-up federal intrusions into our local schools, the biggest expansion of entitlements in 40 years, a proposed constitutional amendment to nationalize marriage law, unconstitutional restrictions on core political speech, intrusion of the federal government into Terri Schiavo’s hospital room, and, in the words of Gene Healy and Timothy Lynch,

a view of federal power that is astonishingly broad, a view that includes a federal government empowered to regulate core political speech — and restrict it greatly when it counts the most: in the days before a federal election;  a president who cannot be restrained, through validly enacted statutes, from pursuing any tactic he believes to be effective in the war on terror;  a president who has the inherent constitutional authority to designate American citizens suspected of terrorist activity as “enemy combatants,” strip them of any constitutional protection, and lock them up without charges for the duration of the war on terror — in other words, perhaps forever; and  a federal government with the power to supervise virtually every aspect of American life, from kindergarten, to marriage, to the grave.

Bush and Rove, too, changed American society in deep and lasting ways.

Rove writes that Paul Ryan, the new Republican chair of the House Budget Committee, “knows that reforming these programs, especially Medicare, is the only path to fiscal sanity and economic growth.” Too bad the Bush administration made the Medicare problem $18 trillion worse.

Rove writes that

the debate about the role and purpose of government has been joined in a way America hasn’t seen in three decades.

Let’s hope so. We at Cato have been trying to have that debate for years, including Ed Crane’s 1999 critique of the Bush-Rove big-government vision and Michael Tanner’s 2007 book, Leviathan on the Right: How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution. And certainly Rove’s comrade-in-arms Gerson has been vigorously arguing against the limited-government libertarian vision that opposes Bush-Obama statism.

Finally, Rove reminds us:

The total debt was $10.6 trillion before [Obama’s] inaugural and $14.2 trillion today.

True. President Obama is increasing deficits and debt even faster than President Bush, under whom the national debt rose by $4.9 trillion. But it takes a lot of chutzpah for the architect of the biggest debt increase ever to criticize the guy who comes along and tops the record.

Surely the Wall Street Journal can find more credible critics of President Obama’s big-government vision than people who ran the “big government disaster” that was the Bush administration.