There is an ongoing debate among conservatives and libertarians about how best to resuscitate the cause of limited government. In a recent post at the Cato Institute Blog, my colleague Brink Lindsey defended another Cato colleague, Jerry Taylor, who caught some flak for criticizing conservative talk radio at National Review online. Both Brink and Jerry argue that Limbaugh, et al, undermine the case for good policy because of sloppy arguments and unappealing styles.
This is a much-needed discussion, especially since the GOP’s decade-long embrace of statist economic policy has dramatically undermined the cause of liberty.
To add my two cents to the mix, I disagree with part of their analysis. The problem is not Rush Limbaugh or any other talk show host. Talk radio, after all, existed when Republicans were riding high and promoting small government in the 1990s.
The real problem is that today’s GOP politicians are unwilling to even pretend that they believe in limited government. In such an environment, it is hardly a surprise that anti-tax and anti-spending voters decide that talk show hosts are de facto national leaders.
This does not mean that Rush Limbaugh is always right or that Sean Hannity never engages in demagoguery. But I suspect if any of us had to be live on the air three hours every day and support our families by attracting an audience, our efforts to be entertaining might result in an occasional mistake – either factually or rhetorically. Heck, when I had to be on the air for just one hour each day in the mid-1990s for the fledgling conservative television network created by the late Paul Weyrich, I’m sure I had more than my share of errors.
This being said, I agree with Brink’s main points about conservatism being adrift. How come there were no tea parties when Bush was expanding the burden of government? Why didn’t conservative think tanks rebel when Bush increased the power of the federal government? Where were the supposedly conservative members of the House and Senate when Bush was pushing through pork-filled transportation bills, corrupt farm bills, a no-bureaucrat-left-behind education bill, and a massive entitlement expansion?
I sometimes wonder if the re-emergence of another Reagan would make a difference, but Brink and others offer compelling reasons to believe that the problems is much deeper.