It’s hard to imagine that less than two decades ago (not that long ago in politics), Bill Clinton, a Democrat, declared the “era of big government is over.” Well, it sure looks alive and well today.
The very voters who claim to hate government on the Right are largely backing a candidate who promises to make it bigger but “great again.” Those on the Left who believe it is discriminatory and militaristic in its practices are backing a candidate who promises to continue the things they hate.
Not even the Libertarian Party has been immune to the trend. Their presidential preferences are two nominees who backed gun control, abortion and the state sanctioning acceptance of practices some may not like (i.e. forcing districts to allow transgendered students in the bathroom of their choice).
It may not seem so surprising we are where we are today. The economic boom of the 90’s has given way to anemic growth and stagnant wages. The rise of terrorism has made the public turn to the government for protection. Perhaps most importantly, BOTH parties have found their bread and butter voters favor bigger government-just for different reasons.
Republicans found a winning coalition in expanding entitlement programs for seniors and creating a brand spanking new security bureaucracy under Bush. When the economy collapsed Democrats abandoned all semblance of being the party of growth and competence by spending trillions and vastly expanding the power of government into healthcare. Voters rewarded both parties with wins in the last 2 elections.
No wonder Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders could rise this cycle. Though for different reasons. Bernie Sanders ran on a platform of massive government spending to boost education and governmental efforts to eliminate inequality.
Trump ran on the power of government protecting traditional cultural values. The forgotten voter, older, whiter and lacking a college degree found a champion not in a man who thought government should be shrunk to be less in their lives but rather used to protect their way of life.
For both Democrats and Republicans this election should cause deep introspection. Republicans like Ted Cruz, who believe the party has not fundamentally shifted and changed from the Reagan years need to realize it has. The party is no longer one solely dedicated to smaller government and fiscal sanity. It now is a party that mixes in voters and politicians who want to use the government to protect their values. Less spending and small government are not as important.
Democrats, for all their supposed advantages this election-demographics, the electoral college, enthusiasm- need to realize the allegiance of voters to their racially tinged agenda is not foolproof. Gary Johnson’s ability to steal away more Democratic leaning than GOP leaning voters should be proof of that.
Neither party seems to be adapting well. Democrats nominated a candidate who over her 30 plus years in politics has morphed from a conservative Democrat into the most liberal nominee in history. Of course, saying you are a liberal after not being one for decades is not a major selling point for any candidacy.
On the GOP side the entire party at one time seemed lined up against Trump. From Ryan to McConnell to the Never Trump movement; the disdain for their nominee until recently was all to real. In fact, the party has still not lined up behind their nominee. And do not even get me started on the pitiful excuse for a candidacy the Libertarians have.
Moving forward, it is clear that Democrats have all but abandoned any belief in not using government to solve society’s ills. From abortion to LGBT issues to climate change the government is the only answer.
Some Republicans are still fighting for small government. But, in reality, their voters just do not care that much about it when weighed against using government for their own ends. If the other side is going to use government to tell us what to do, well, fair is fair seems to be the mantra of many Republicans.
Time will tell whether this is a passing trend or something that is here to stay. But, if younger voters are any indication, then the era of big government is here to stay. These voters want government to do more yet be left alone at the same time. Those two contradictions have yet to be reconciled among the nation’s largest and youngest voting bloc.
American politics is cyclical. Maybe if government gets too big we will finally see push-back and government may shrink or grow much more slowly. Just do not count on it in the short-term. Meanwhile, it is safe to say the era of small government is over.