Is Bush a Closet Socialist?

You laugh, but fifty years ago my Republican Party would have accused this President Bush of being a socialist and trying to undermine the free market.

Socialism by revolution certainly is the most dramatic, but Republicans have historically recognized that socialism by evolution, a gradual and inexorable expansion of government responsibility, was in some ways a greater danger. Fear of creeping socialism was a primary reason that Republicans were so adamantly against government deficit spending. Republicans recognized that perhaps the ONLY way to control the growth of government was to force voters to pay for it as they used it. Decoupling government spending from taxes almost guaranteed that the amount of money government spends would grow, and thus the government’s intrusion into our economy and lives would grow as well.

As importantly, budget deficits undermined belief in the free market. Explicit in a budget deficit is the idea that the free market won’t grow and prosper on its own, that government intervention and control of supply and demand are necessary for the health of our economy. Republicans were concerned that if voters came to accept the idea that the government needed to manipulate and control the economy to insure growth, then any shortcomings in the economy would lead to demand for government to do more. Once this cycle was started, each swing in the business cycle would result in ever greater government spending, ever larger deficits and even greater intrusion into the economy. Who knew where this might lead - would government eventually lose confidence on people’s ability to decide which agricultural products to buy, or to oversee their children’s education?

And Republicans recognized that at some point, deficit spending would have to come to an end – our country would actually have to pay for all of the services being provided by our government. Modern fiscal conservatives seem to have this fantasy that in this situation the government would largely collapse, unable to pay for everything it is doing. Republicans who had lived through the Depression realized that in a democracy the answer is far more likely to be confiscatory tax policy – government would simply increase its tax rates on those who controlled the means of production to pay for the services government provided to those who didn’t. Republicans worried that bankruptcy wouldn’t be the end of Big Government - it would be the practical end of private ownership of the means of production.

Republicans also recognized that supporters of Socialism were more than willing to lie about what they were trying to accomplish, so sure were they of the rightness of their eventual goal. Republicans were cautious to judge politicians by their policies, not their platitudes; the one thing that doesn’t lie is the math of government spending.

Math has many very harsh things to say about this President Bush. He has doubled farm subsidies, greatly increased government involvement in education, has substantially increased government spending and is running the largest deficits in the history of our country. He no longer even bothers to promise a balanced budget – his best case scenario plans on a permanent budget deficit. Math says that this President Bush will go down in history as the Republican president who most increased the tax burden on U.S. citizens.

So is Bush a closet socialist? For all of his talk of the free market, does he actually believe that more government is the answer to almost every problem? Unfortunately, it is hard for me to think of a problem he hasn’t suggested throwing money at yet. Certainly our historical situation has changed, and we no longer worry about government seizing the means of production. But it is still unsettling to realize that 50 years ago a whole host of prominent Republicans would have been calling the President “Red George” and accusing him of trying to sneak socialism into our government.

Posted by at March 8, 2004 8:59 AM