Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Back With a Vengeance

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, August 19, 2003 --  

Ten years ago today, America's anti-government movement was going strong. President Clinton and First Lady Hillary had served six months of their first term, and Republicans were digging trenches against the Clintons' plans to take over the health care system and outlaw private ownership of assault rifles. Militias were forming throughout the provinces to fight a predicted revolution against the ever-encroaching arm of government. To right-wing conspiracy theorists that feared control by the United Nations, incidents such as the August 1992 assault on Ruby Ridge were rallying cries to save the freedom of Americans before it was too late.

But it was federal agents' siege and ensuing slaughter at Waco in April of 1993 that most energized anti-government Americans on the right. By the fall of 1994, a Republican revolution swept big-government Democrats out of congressional power, installing Newt Gingrich with starry-eyed plans to eliminate entire cabinet agencies such as the Department of Education. President Clinton was forced to sue for peace in his 1996 State of the Union Address, declaring "the era of big government is over."

A decade after these stunning events, big government has returned with a vengeance. Republicans who once talked of eliminating federal departments have instead added a new one -- the Department of Homeland Security. The same Republican leaders who once fought to protect erosion of the Bill of Rights' gun protections now support limiting the Bill of Rights' guarantee of trial by jury. American citizens today sit in jail without trial and without access to lawyers, simply because a government official utters the magic words "enemy combatant."

It is often said, ad nauseam, that September 11th changed everything. Indeed. It has caused Republicans to utterly betray the anti-government principles that led to the party's resurgence under Ronald Reagan, and begin dancing with the devil of statism under George W. Bush. In his inaugural address, Reagan declared, "Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem." Well, it still is the problem. And today, it is a Republican-controlled government that is making the problem bigger.

In the year that followed the Republicans' takeover of all branches of the federal government in 2001, federal spending increased by $147 billion -- the largest one-year amount in history.1 Apologists who point to "unavoidable" war costs in Afghanistan are silenced when presented with the irresponsible pork projects sneaked through Congress in the wake of September 11. The majority of new spending in 2002 was completely unrelated to the president's declared war on terrorism.2 The future of government looks far bigger still, thanks to the new Medicare drug entitlement passed by both Republican-controlled houses of Congress, and endorsed by the Republican president.

Where have all the anti-government activists gone? Certainly not to the political left. Aside from a few civil liberties organizations, the American left is still dominated by the regular hodgepodge of pro-spending special interest groups that think bigger government is the answer to every problem. The pro-government atmosphere is so wacky that people actually call Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean a "fiscal conservative" simply because he wants to raise taxes enough to cover the costs of his massive increases in spending.

Given the fact that the mainstream of the Democratic Party has long favored big government, Democrats simply don't deserve as much scorn as the Republicans. It was the right-wing movement of angry white men that beat back the tide of Democratic government expansion by voting Republican in the elections of 1994 and 2000. The irony -- as well as the tragedy -- is that the very party elected to stop the growth of government is now the one that fuels it.


1. Congressional Budget Office, The Budget and Economic Outlook: Fiscal Years 2004-2013, January 29, 2003

2. Financial Review, Fiscal Prudence Out As Big Spenders Hit Town, September 11, 2002