Investigating a Meme
One thing I’ve heard recently from some is that Bush never really ran as a “small government conservative” (link, link). The problem is I think Bush did try to portray himself as a small government, or at least, a smaller government conservative.
Take for example Bush’s acceptance speech at the 2000 Republican convention.
The last time taxes were this high as a percentage of our economy, there was a good reason; we were fighting World War II. Today our high taxes fund a surplus. Some say that growing federal surplus means Washington has more money to spend.
But they’ve got it backwards. The surplus is not the government’s money; the surplus is the people’s money.
Big government is not the answer, but the alternative to bureaucracy is not indifference. It is to put conservative values and conservative ideas into the thick of the fight for justice and opportunity.
Then there is this speech as well,
Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” (Laughter.) Now, we come to a fork in the road; we have two choices. Even though we have already met our needs, we could spend the money on more and bigger government. That’s the road our nation has traveled in recent years.
Last year, government spending shot up 8 percent. That’s far more than our economy grew, far more than personal income grew, and far more than the rate of inflation. If you continue on that road, you will spend the surplus and have to dip into Social Security to pay other bills. (Applause.) Unrestrained government spending is a dangerous road to deficits, so we must take a different path. (Applause.) The other choice is to let the American people spend their own money to meet their own needs. (Applause.)
And we have more with this speech,
One of the main reasons why we insisted that people get money back was to provide a second wind for our economy. And the other reason why is because we recognize that these good folks spend their money just as wisely, if not more wisely, than the Government can.
Well, you know, there’s a lot of people still want to politicize the budget. They like the old-time wars of zero-sum politics. There are a lot of big spenders, a lot of highly partisan people that really didn’t like the tax cut to begin with. They want the Government to have the people’s money. They believe in bigger Government.
And all I do is rest my case with the people. And the people wanted tax relief. The people want fiscal sanity in Washington. The people want all the money going into Medicare to be spent on Medicare, and that’s what my budget does. And people also want a good defense for our country. And I hope, at the very minimum, the leadership in the Congress will give us the Defense appropriation number and the Education appropriation number early in the process, so that we don’t rob defense or rob education by holding those appropriation bills late.
And even more with this quote from a speech in 2002,
The best way to encourage economic vitality and growth is to let people keep their own money.When you spend your own money, somebody’s got to manufacture that which you’re spending it on. You see, more money in the private sector circulating makes it more likely that our economy will grow. And, incredibly enough, some want to take away part of those tax cuts. They’ve been reading the wrong textbook. You don’t raise somebody’s taxes in the middle of a recession. You trust people with their own money. And, by the way, that money isn’t the government’s money; it’s the people’s money.
I’m sure if I kept looking I’d find even more references.
Further, I’d argue that statements like “people spend their money more wisely than the government” implies rather strongly a smaller less intrusive government. In hearing these kinds of things I think it is not unreasonable to draw a conclusion that Bush at least made a pretense of supporting less government intervention in the economy. However, what we got is precisely what Fred Barnes calls a Big Government Conservative and Bush was being at least somwhat misleading in his speeches and continues to do so to this day.