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Will Real Conservatives Become Democrats?
The Republican Party no longer stands for smaller government.

by James Leroy Wilson
December 22, 2005

The myth is totally discredited, but won't go away: the Republican Party stands for smaller government, Vache Folle, leaving a comment on Freeman's blog, says it best: "It drives me nuts when GOPers claim to be for small government, and it makes me even madder for Democrats to concede this ground to the GOP."

Crazy as it may sound, but some of us actually want smaller government. But this isn't to be found in the Party of George WMD Bush. Despite five years of "governing," if Bush's rule could even be called that, non-defense spending has ballooned (pdf). The party that attracted the small-government remnant with the rhetoric of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan has abandoned those icons. And Bush doesn't have a Democratic Congress to blame either. While many of us in 2000 did not have any illusions that Bush believed in shrinking the government, how could we expect the Republicans to be this fiscally irresponsible?

The sad part is, while this reckless spending is unforgivable, this is one of the least bad attributes of the Bush Administration. Last week it was revealed that George WMD had ordered the National Security Agency to illegally spy on Americans, and that is just his latest assault on our freedoms. WMD Boy had to be persuaded not to veto a bill that would prohibit his government from torturing people. Do civilized societies really need to debate such a thing?

Unfortunately, the President still has a following. To many, the great menace is still "liberalism," and WMD Boy is their Leader who will protect "real" Americans from socialism, permissiveness, and military weakness. Because Bush wants tax cuts, he is "clearly better" on the economy than the Democrats, no matter how much he spends. Because he opposes gay marriage, he is obviously a defender of "family values." Because he attacks countries that have never attacked us, he is showing strength whereas the Democrats are just a bunch of whining wusses. Bush must be conservative because, well, he ain't a liberal.

But "true" or "paleo" conservatives, the ones who believe in small government, balanced budgets, armed neutrality, and civil liberty, are increasingly disgusted with the President. Former Reaganites such as Pat Buchanan, Paul Craig Roberts, and the late Jude Wanniski have been very pointed in their criticism of Bush, particularly on the War in Iraq.

One Congressman who does stand for what conservatives used to stand for is Ron Paul of Texas. His consistency on issues of peace, civil liberties, limited government, and fiscal responsibility has made him a hero to many people ranging from anarchists on the left to unreconstructed Southerners on the right. Paul also chairs the Congress's Liberty Caucus, which has 23 members, all Republican. So at least there are some Republicans who still stand for the old libertarian and conservative causes, right? Overall, Republicans are still better on these issues than Democrats, right?

Actually, the behavior of even the members of the Liberty Caucus do not conform to this expectation. Logan Ferree at Freedom Democrats took a look at how the Caucus votes. He matched ten votes that Paul and the Liberty Caucus signaled as key votes, to see how often Caucus members voted with Paul. The votes ranged from civil liberty protection, to withdrawing from international organizations, to protecting state sovereignty, to stopping spending increases. Ferree lists the bills and how Paul voted, and reports that sixteen of the Liberty Caucus members didn't even vote with Paul half the time, with only two agreeing with Paul just six out of the ten times, and five agreeing just five times.

But then it gets interesting. Logan continues:

When looking at all of the members of the House of Representatives, do any stand out as consistently voting with Ron Paul on these ten votes? Two Democrats voted with Ron Paul eighty percent of the time: Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Cynthia McKinney of Georgia. Thirty-three other Democrats, too long to list here, voted with Ron Paul seven times out of ten, more than any member of the Liberty Caucus. Even Bernie Sanders, professing a socialist ideology, voted with Ron Paul on seven of the ten votes.

When it comes to protecting civil liberties and even national sovereignty, Democrats are coming out ahead of Republicans.

I hate to use the cliche, but we are witnessing a paradigm shift. The libertarian-conservative coalition in the Republican Party, once represented by the likes of Robert Taft, Goldwater, and Reagan, has been pushed aside. The neoconservatives and the Religious Right, neither of whom care much about freedom or limited government, are in charge of the Party.

Where can the paleoconservatives and the libertarians go? Do the Democrats see the opportunity here? True, there isn't too much in common between libertarians and modern progressives, between America First conservatives and neo-liberal internationalists. But recently, two elder statesmen of the Democratic Party passed away, the anti-war Eugene McCarthy and the dogged fighter against government waste, William Proxmire. If the leadership of the Democratic Party will embrace their legacies, a new coalition can form. Is it possible to imagine a Democratic Party that stands for peace, civil liberties, and fiscal responsibility? That stands against the wasteful and tyrannical policies of the past five years?

Politics make strange bedfellows indeed. But compared to George WMD Bush and Dick Cheney, Bill Richardson and Russ Feingold don't look so bad.

About the Author:
James Leroy Wilson blogs at Independent Country ( and is a contributor to (

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