Federal spending is out of control. Federal regulation continues its creep, weighing ever heavier on private enterprise. We have a new Cabinet department, the largest one ever established, and we were just handed the largest federal entitlement in 40 years.

A few of us had our taxes cut, but that hardly matters when government keeps spending the way it is. Sooner or later, the waiter will come by with the check, and it’s those of us under 30 who will be reaching for our wallets. As election 2004 nears, what’s a good limited-government soldier to do?

Vote for Howard Dean. Yes, that’s right. The only way to get Republicans to truly fight for the low-tax, reduced-spending principles they traditionally espouse is to give them an opponent in the White House to fight against. Consider that for all his flaws, Bill Clinton grew government at a rate more modest than most of his predecessors and most certainly at a rate slower than his successor — a distinction that is almost entirely the result of Clinton being forced to work with a hostile Congress for most of his two terms.

In all likelihood, the Republicans will retain control of both houses of Congress in 2004. In fact, given retirements, redistricting and the current political demography of the country, they’ll probably hold Congress for quite a long time to come. With that in mind, let me give you three reasons why an advocate for limited government ought to consider supporting Howard Dean:

1. Republicans are most principled when someone they despise holds power. President Clinton was in many ways a better limited-government executive than President Bush. President Clinton talked big government talk on the campaign trail, but once in office, many times acted quite differently. He signed the free trade agreements GATT (search) and NAFTA (search), for example, and rolled out an initiative to gut federal bureaucratic waste. 

Federal spending grew at an annual rate of 0.9 percent under President Clinton, the lowest since Eisenhower. In contrast, it’s grown a whopping 4.4 percent under President Bush, the highest since Lyndon Johnson. 

President Clinton fought for significant increases in the size and scope of the Department of Education. The Republicans wouldn’t allow it. President Clinton asked for significant campaign finance reform. It died in the Congress. President Clinton wanted an overhaul in the health care system, particularly a prescription drug benefit for seniors. He never got it. 

In the three years President Clinton has been out of office, the Republican Congress has passed all three of those ideas into law. It’s pretty clear now that the GOP of the 1990s acted not out of principle, but out of spite. It’s no secret that the Republican leadership in Congress despised President Clinton. Republicans in fact shut the government down in lieu of capitulating to President Clinton’s policies. They simply didn’t want to give President Clinton any political victories. In contrast, the Congress has been so kind to President Bush, he may become the first American president since James Buchanan (search) to go an entire term without using the veto.

2. Divided government gets less done (always a good thing in Washington). The Cato Institute’s William Niskanen points out that in the last 50 years, the only two periods of extended fiscal restraint from the federal government came during the Eisenhower and Clinton administrations, both under divided government. The two eras when government expanded were the Kennedy/Johnson administration, and the current administration, both under united government. Note that party affiliation really doesn’t factor into the equation. A government that can’t pass laws can’t spend money. It can’t raise taxes. It can’t create new federal agencies or benefits.

3. Republicans are more principled when they’re not in power. Remember the Contract With America? (search) It was introduced in 1993. At that time, Republicans were in the minority, and had been, for the most part, for decades. The Contract With America proposed a radical downsizing of the federal government, including eliminating entire Cabinet departments. It was born of a “nothing left to lose” mentality. It was bold, brash and refreshingly principled. Of course, as soon as the Republicans won, largely because of the Contract, they promptly abandoned its most controversial provisions. They feared offending mainstream voters. They now had something to lose — their power.

So, back to Howard Dean. More than a year into the primary campaign, it’s clear now that of the nine candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, Howard Dean seems to irritate Republicans most. He’s been the subject of the most press releases from the Republican National Committee, and attacks on him have popped up in conservative publications like the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, National Review and the Weekly Standard. The mere mention of his name spikes Rush Limbaugh’s (search) blood pressure. His supporters seem to be the very kind of youngish, hipster, anti-war, Volvo-driving types that send red-tied GOPers into a tizzy.

It really doesn’t matter to me if the Republicans limit the size of government out of principle or spite, I just want them to do it. Recent history suggests that for the GOP, the stronger motivator is spite. So if you truly care about limited government, help the Republicans rediscover their principles in election 2004. 

Vote for Howard Dean.

Radley Balko is a freelance writer and publishes a weblog at TheAgitator.com. 

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