September 3, 2004 -- Nearly every speaker at the Republican Party convention commented on John Kerry's flip-flops; there are two Kerrys—one, for example, who votes for funding our troops in Iraq and another who votes against it. Points well taken! But we also saw at the convention two George Bushs, not flip-flopping on any single issue but, rather, taking the freedom position on one issue and the statist position on another. Depending on which half of his laundry list of recommendations you attend to, you'll think you're listening to either Ronald Reagan or Teddy Kennedy.
President Bush used a lot of good rhetoric at the convention. As he observed, "The story of America is the story of expanding liberty." He maintained that "I believe in the energy and innovative spirit of America's workers, entrepreneurs, farmers, and ranchers—so we unleashed that energy with the largest tax relief in a generation."
On the positive side, Bush is returning to his proposal to partially privatize social security. This could be the most revolutionary domestic policy coming out of his administration. Owning property is essential for moral individuals who wish to control their own destinies, and today half of all Americans own stock, principally through private IRAs or 401K accounts. As even more individuals own private retirement accounts through partial social security privatization, they will compare the paltry returns from that government Ponzi scheme with the substantial returns over time from private accounts that are invested in productive efforts. Eventually, most Americans will demand total privatization. While Kerry has pledged no privatization, Bush has made this part of his platform.
Bush also called for expanding medical savings accounts. He wants to "protect small business owners and workers from the explosion of frivolous lawsuits that threaten jobs across America" and wants some form of medical liability reform—state reform would be better than federal—to stop the plague of lawsuits that are driving talented doctors out of business. And he wants to make his earlier tax cuts permanent.
But after observing that the current tax system is a drag on the economy, burdening it with six billion hours of paperwork annually, Bush missed an opportunity to follow the suggestion of House Speaker Dennis Hastert: abolish the income tax system and IRS and replace them with some form of national sales tax. Yes, it would be better if the IRS is not replaced and most federal spending simply axed. But moving to a sales tax or even flat tax system would be a step forward from the current morally bankrupt system that punishes individuals for the virtue of productivity. Bush, instead, merely called for a bipartisan—read: mushy—review of the current system.
On the bad side, Bush again declared himself a "compassionate conservative." He then demonstrated that when politicians declare themselves "compassionate," it usually means that they want to reduce our freedom or bank accounts in the name of helping others. In the end, such immoral altruism helps no one and simply creates a culture of entitlement, with whining "victims" demanding state-extorted handouts.
Bush wants to double the number of workers in federally funded job training programs, despite the fact that such programs have been failures for decades. He wants greater federal funding for community colleges and wants to ensure that poorer neighborhoods each have a community health care center (so much for federalism). He wants to enroll millions more students in government health insurance (so much for returning control over the well-being of children to their families). And with mangled logic, he touted his record federal education spending and testing standards mandated by Washington as means to make certain that "local people are in charge of their schools."
Oh, and by the way, he wants to restrain runaway federal spending.
Compared to the consistent statism of Kerry and the Left, many no doubt will see the Bush agenda as half full rather than half empty. But the dangers with the two Bushs are two-fold. First, more than a few voters are likely to notice these contradictions. And second, if reelected, Bush could carry through on the bad recommendations, with the eager help of Democrats.
Bush likes to place himself in the tradition of Ronald Reagan. But even though the Gipper didn't always practice what he preached, he did call for shutting down federal departments rather than expanding them, and he offered a much more consistent vision of a free society than does Bush. Only when advocates of freedom support consistent policies based on consistent premises will we have a chance again to expand the sphere of individual liberty.