Commentary

In Search of an Opposition, Loyal or Otherwise

This article appeared in Investor’s Business Daily.

If you live in Washington long enough, you have to ask: What is the purpose of the Republican Party? However loudly it proclaims its opposition to Democratic initiatives to expand government, loot the public and violate the Constitution, the GOP almost always eventually joins in.

For instance, the GOP once stood on principle against social engineering schemes like Social Security and Medicare, which have been even more disastrous than predicted by their worst critics. Today Republicans are arguing with Democrats over how much money to set aside to preserve the programs.

Republicans have acquiesced in nearly every power grab by the federal government: property forfeitures based on the mere accusation of a crime; draconian ”anti-terrorist” laws that prevent no acts of terrorism; land confiscations in the name of wetlands preservation; and thousands of new regulations imposed by the Clinton administration.

Republicans supposedly oppose centralization of education. They voted against creation of the Department of Education. But despite the dearth of evidence that higher spending yields higher quality, the GOP is now promising to spend more money on education than proposed by President Clinton.

Indeed, what program does the GOP want to ax? Despite a brief flirtation with serious budget cuts in 1995, the Republicans are back in their role as tax collectors for the welfare state.

Congress has outspent Clinton’s proposed budget two out of the last three years. The GOP has been hiking outlays for the National Endowment for the Arts, as if culture didn’t exist before the federal government subsidized pornographers. The president’s paid ”volunteer” program, AmeriCorps, has won budget increases two years in a row.

Corporate welfare - the Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration, Export-Import Bank, agricultural export subsidies and many others - has also been rising. The Republicans’ pork-ridden 1998 transportation bill dwarfed earlier Democratic measures.

Nor does the GOP act to protect the Constitution. From the illegal interim appointment of Bill Lann Lee as chief quota enforcer (assistant attorney general for civil rights) to illegal war-making abroad (bombing the sovereign nation of Yugoslavia without congressional authority), the Republican Congress does nothing but sputter. Yet the GOP complains when the Supreme Court perverts the Constitution.

Which leads back to the question: What is the purpose of the Republican Party?

For most GOP officeholders, it is obviously to seize power. There’s nothing unusual in that, of course, except that Republicans claim they want power to protect individual liberty. In contrast, Democrats don’t make much pretense of wanting to do anything other than tax the productive in order to enrich friendly interest groups and perpetuate themselves in office.

Why does the GOP almost always end up looking like the Democratic Party? First, many Republican candidates are simply Democrats in drag. Former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., says he decided to join the GOP after realizing there were more Republicans than Democrats in Kansas. No wonder he could articulate no substantive differences with Clinton in 1996.

Second, few Republicans believe their rhetoric enough to put it into practice. Indeed, most have favorite programs over which they will fight to the death. Just like Democrats.

Third, many GOP politicians are transformed by Washington. Although on average Republican congressmen vote for less spending than do Democratic members, all of them vote for more spending the longer they serve. All come to believe in their indispensability to society.

Fourth, most GOP legislators are political hacks who don’t understand the implications of their professed philosophy. Despite occasional anomalies, like the congressional class of 1994, Republican politicians are usually professionals. They know how to get elected, not why business subsidies are inconsistent with free markets.

Fifth, even many principled Republicans are political cowards unwilling to defend their beliefs. Polls indicate that the public thinks education is a critical issue. Therefore the GOP prefers to propose more education spending rather than explain why such a strategy is doomed to fail.

Sixth, Republican officeholders recognize they benefit from big government. Lord Acton was right. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. GOP politicos seldom resist the temptation to sacrifice principle for expediency.

The duty of an opposition is to oppose. Unfortunately, Republicans have become only slightly paler versions of Democrats. If the GOP won’t stand up for liberty, voters should consign it to the dustbin of history, where it belongs.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former special assistant to President Reagan.