In fiscal 1965-68, Lyndon Johnson raised discretionary spending a whopping 33.4 percent (all figures are adjusted for inflation and based on Office of Management and Budget data). He jacked up nondefense discretionary spending 34.2 percent and defense spending -- remember Vietnam? -- 33.1 percent.
Consider how some of the presidents after him performed.
Richard Nixon cut total discretionary spending by 15.2 percent, mostly by slashing defense spending almost a third. Over two terms, Ronald Reagan increased discretionary spending 15.3 percent, largely due to a 38 percent increase in defense spending. With the Cold War over, George Herbert Walker Bush's cuts to the defense budget allowed him to reduce total discretionary spending by 3.4 percent -- even as he goosed nondefense spending by a robust 13.9 percent. In his first term, Bill Clinton actually reduced total discretionary spending 8 percent; in his second term, he increased it a relatively modest 8.1 percent.
Then there's George W. Bush. In his first term, he increased total discretionary spending 35.1 percent and that percentage will actually rise: the final figures for fiscal 2005 aren't in yet, so we have to rely on the July OMB midsession review numbers. The final numbers will be significantly higher, especially since midsession figures do not take into account hundreds of billions in supplemental spending related to Hurricane Katrina and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
How has the president spent so much? Defense spending has greatly increased, by 37.2 percent over four years. But the president also increased nondefense discretionary spending by a humongous 37 percent. Even when you subtract homeland security spending, Mr. Bush and Congress boosted nondefense discretionary spending by 23 percent during his first term.
Bush has followed the governance of his father. In the Intellectual Activist issue of November 1, 1988, Peter Schwartz looked at George Herbert Walker Bush.
He is an old-line Republican liberal, one who when running for the nomination in 1980 attacked Reagan from the left, and whose campaign now consists of trying to appeal to the entire political spectrum.
In his “conversion” to Reagan conservatism, Bush has given up much of his former secularism and is now a staunch opponent of abortion and supporter of a Constitutional amendment prohibiting it. He also favors a Constitutional amendment to encourage prayer in public schools….
But there was much more in that speech designed to satisfy the liberals. He said: “I am going to do whatever it takes to make sure the disabled are included in the mainstream.” He promised the elderly that, with respect to Social Security, “I’m not going to let them it away from you.” He spoke about ensuring “equality” and "economic empowerment” for women. He talked about caring for the homeless, the urban poor and the environment….
Bush has a vast laundry list of liberal causes, half of which he may believe in, and half of which he probably defends in order to appease liberals. He wants a higher minimum wage, he wants hundreds of millions of additional federal funds to be funneled into the public school system, he promises farmers not to cut their subsidies, he vows to appoint a Hispanic to his Cabinet, and he says that “we have a moral obligation to assist the developing countries… [and] what is called for is a new wave of flexibility from banks, international financial institutions and governments.”
…He even argues that producing wealth is an ignoble activity unless it is put to charitable use. “It is legitimate to ask, what is the end purpose of this economic growth? Is it just to be rich? What a shallow ambition. Is there really any satisfaction to be had in being the fattest country?”
Every weakness of the current Bush -- pragmatism, liberal big government and religious conservatism -- is merely a continuation of his father’s policies. And his father’s policies grew out Reagan’s policies. Conservatism is a sham. The Republicans are a party of big government, just slightly not as big as what the Democrats want.
The Republicans Party’s greatest asset is their enemy, the Democrat Party, which has gone so far left that they make the Republicans look responsible. The Democrats want to sprint to the abyss of dictatorship; the Republicans want to take us there at a leisurely jog.
Judging by the record, the best situation for America is the gridlock that results from a divided government, with a Democrat president and a Republican congress. Under the gridlock of the Clinton years our race to the abyss slowed to a walk. Gridlock buys us time to spread a rational philosophy that I hope will change enough minds to turn us away from the abyss.