David Frum Tries to Set Out What Went Wrong
David Frum laments the fate of the small government conservatives. He doesn't quite put it this way, but they were the victims of the political equivalent of a Nigerian 419 scam. "Compassionate conservatism will turn out to be small-government conservatism," Karl Rove and others IMd them. "You just need to deliver your votes and give us access to your bank accounts and everything will be fine." And, as so often happens with those who think they are in on the con, they turned out not to be.
It's a very intelligent discussion that ends with Frum painting what he regards as a favorable picture of the future for small-government conservatives: if things work out well, they could be the twenty-first century equivalent of the nineteenth century whigs:
David Frum: for the GOP to reinvent itself as a limited-government would require it to repudiate much or maybe close to all of the domestic agenda of the Bush administration. That has happened before: The Reaganites did it to the Nixon/Ford legacy. But that happened only after the greatest political scandal of the 20th century had removed or discredited much of the previous generation of party leadership.... Whatever happens in 2006 and 2008, the Bush/Rove operation will retain enormous residual strength -- enough certainly to deter credible candidates from running as critics of Bush.... [M]ost of the governors and senators who look like plausible presidential material have already committed themselves to some form or another of Bush-style compromise with activist government.... [I]t's hard to count many votes for a Reagan redux even if one were somehow to reappear.
So what does this mean for limited-government conservatives?... Two things I'd say.
One is memory.... It may be that the future of [small government] conservatism is to recognize that it belongs to the past.
The second possibility is that conservatism will live on as a tendency within both parties rather than as a compact and self-conscious movement in control of one of them.... Long after the Whigs went out of business... their ideas and preferences exerted influence.... A Republican President and Congress gave the country the nonpartisan civil service the Whigs had wanted; a Democratic President and Congress restored a central bank in 1913. Progressive ideals of government by experts, scientific management, and government responsibility for the health and welfare of the population have likewise become the common inheritance of both modern parties...