Look, Rush has a serious and principled point: Maybe conservatives shouldn’t try to reform the welfare state; maybe the lesson of the Bush years is that you just can’t achieve conservative ends within the framework that FDR and company built; maybe Reihan and I are just government-loving quislings. But like Daniel Larison, it seems to me that if Rush really believes this, he shouldn’t be wasting his time with the modern Reagan-Gingrich-Bush GOP at all – it’s just a pack of quislings from start to finish. There’s only one contemporary politician who would pass Limbaugh’s stringent purity test, and his name is Ronald Paul.
My only quibble is that I don’t think Limbaugh’s is a principled point. Not that I think Limbaugh is dissembling or the like. I just think that the small government trope in the hands of people like Limbaugh has almost nothing to do with principles of governing and everything to do with politics, which is to say, rhetoric. None of us, Limbaugh included, lives in a world in which small government is ever gonna happen. It just isn’t. Our government is either going to stay the same size, shrink by tiny degrees under concerted effort, or grow at varying speeds. So what does it mean to lash people for violating the principles of small government in such a world? It means setting yourself apart, preserving the space in which your ritualized anger makes some minimal sense, and it means stoking the utopian crankiness of a certain sort of devoted listener. But it makes minimal sense at best, because if Limbaugh were really principled about all this, as Ross suggests, he would go with Larison, go with Paul.
This is one of the huge problems of conservatism that GNP is such a welcome response to – the nominal small government philosophy of a party that has shown almost no small government inclinations while in power. Indeed, the small government trope is typically rendered within a high-stakes partisan game, in which crushing one’s opponents tends to justify all kinds of big government deviationism. Bushian big government conservatism, along with his manifest foreign policy follies, didn’t become toxic to the Limbaugh base until late 2006, when it stopped working its electoral magic.