"Leviathan on The Right" is the opening salvo in the internecine battle within the Republican Party. For believers of limited government who have wondered where the GOP went wrong, Michael D. Tanner chronicles how the vision of the likes of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan have been usurped by segments of the GOP have insisted on expanding government. Why? Tanner outlines the various strains of conservative thought (In perhaps the best way I have ever seen the differences explained by any other author who has touched on this theme) that have influenced the GOP that a small government, budget-cutting agenda is not just politically unpalatable, but counterproductive to cementing political power. Neoconservatives, "national greatness" conservatives, the religious right and others have become the dominant voice during the Bush administration and by doing so have set us on the road to a fiscal nightmare that will leave our country poorer and limit our personal liberties.
Tanner's book does not touch on foreign policy but focuses on the rise in domestic spending on ever expanding entitlement programs (The disgraceful Medicare Prescription Benefit rightfully gets lambasted), educational mandates (No Child Left Behind effectively created a national school board), corporate welfare, farm subsidies and slabs of unnecessary pork. By highlighting the abandonment of federalism and the enumerated powers set in our Constitution, can anyone doubt that the policies best left to state and local governments are sapping our ability to effectively fund the protection of our country from those that mean to do us harm?
As a Cato Institute scholar, you can expect that Tanner's solutions to many problems have a libertarian bent that seeks to maximize personal liberty, employ free market solutions and eventually deregulate, decentralize and put a sizeable dent in the scope of the federal government. Many of Tanner's suggestions, particularly those concerning entitlement programs, are not only good approaches to solving the crisis, but may very well be the only way to solve them. His approach to healthcare, however, is one topic in which his viewpoint I find to be lacking. For example, although individual mandates requiring people to purchase health insurance is nearly impossible to enforce at best and unconstitutional at worst, it may be the only sensible way to start alleviating the cost we are all burdened with as the number of the uninsured creeps ever higher.
Ultimately, the Revolution of 1994 started to collapse as soon as Congressional Republicans started believing big government should suit conservative ends, regardless of how intrusive, expensive or dubious the proposition. If the 2006 election is any indication, the Republican Party severely needs some soul searching. 2008 may not be any better. But as Mr. Tanner reminds us, Barry Goldwater's loss in 1964 was the harbinger of a once great movement. Perhaps a similiar fate will allow for the resurrection of it.