The Right Coast

May 02, 2004
 
Liberty and the War on Terror
By Mike Rappaport

Chris DeMuth has a great essay at OpinionJournal.com. DeMuth argues that the War on Terror has led to larger government in areas outside of defense and homeland security, and this is one of the greatest dangers facing us. The growth in nonsecurity domestic spending is not merely a coincidence:
    Domestic spending and regulating are shaped by the pressures of innumerable interest groups--representing farmers, teachers unions, business firms, veterans, environmental causes, etc.--each extracting a subsidy here, a regulatory advantage there. The special-purpose congressional committees and administrative agencies are the friendly, accommodating forums for special interests. Asserting the public interest over the multitude of parochial claimants that collectively threaten it requires leadership from the top. Such leadership was essential to the tax reforms of 2001 and 2003, which required huge investments of President Bush's time and energy. But since Sept. 11, the president and his senior officials have been preoccupied with other things. Other than the 2003 tax reform, Congress and the bureaucracies have mostly been left to their own devices.

    And emergency mobilization is not merely distracting--it requires positive accommodation of many individual legislators and constituencies. When the president has an urgent priority, such as a big appropriation for rebuilding Iraq, everyone in Washington knows it. To get what he needs, a president must acquiesce in much that he regards as incidental or even obnoxious. The price of necessary legislation includes the building of many unnecessary dams and other pork-barrel projects.
Although DeMuth does not make the point, one might say that the Patriot Act, even assuming it does infringe on civil liberties, at least provides us with some benefits in terms of homeland security. Excessive highway spending does nothing to make us safer.

I don't mean to sound like a broken record, but DeMuth's point underscores the greatness of Ronald Reagan, who both won the cold war and fought bigger government.