In September 2009, President Barack Obama asked his fellow Americans to rise to the occasion and help pass national healthcare legislation. Said Obama of what he thought was an historic moment: “We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it. I still believe we can act even when it’s hard… I still believe we can do great things, and that here and now we will meet history’s test.”
Conservatives uniformly opposed what came to be known as ObamaCare, because they believed there are constitutional, financial and even moral limits to the functions and reach of government power. Conservatives understood that there were serious problems with healthcare costs, but rightly feared government intervention would only make those problems worse. Government must have limits, said conservatives, and ObamaCare was certainly outside of them.
In June 2011, former Minnesota Governor and 2012 GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty asked his fellow Americans and his party to rise to the occasion and help support the growth of democracy throughout the Middle East, in Libya, Syria and beyond. Said Pawlenty of what he thought was an historic moment: “Now is not the time to retreat from freedom’s rise… We have been presented with a challenge as great as any we have faced in recent decades. And we must get it right. The question is, are we up to the challenge?”
Said Obama of the healthcare challenge: “Our collective failure to meet this challenge—year after year, decade after decade—has led us to the breaking point…” For Pawlenty, America’s challenge in the Middle East was also a long time coming: “For 60 years, Western nations excused and accommodated the lack of freedom in the Middle East. That could not last.”
Pawlenty’s faith in the power of activist government is no different from Obama’s and not surprisingly neither is his rhetoric. Every big government program ever rammed down America’s throat—from FDR’s New Deal to Obama’s raw ones—has always been packaged as some great “challenge” of epic proportions that we must confront with bravery, and so on. Such rhetoric has also been bipartisan.
War is the statism Republicans love—or at least they did for the last decade. Post-Bush, the GOP now shows significant skepticism toward Obama’s foreign policy overreach and wonders whether the same limits they seek for government at home should be applied abroad. This isn’t something new for the Right, but a return to first principles. Commenting on the 2012 Republican presidential field, columnist Peggy Noonan explains: “sometimes parties step away from themselves, stop being what they are. The Democrats are doing it now, in their soggy interventionism in Libya. So it’s especially good to see the Republicans start to return to themselves, to their essential nature as a party, which was invented to be genially sober… optimistic but not unrealistic… and accepting that life has limits and it’s not unpatriotic to say so.”
Pawlenty not only believes the power of government to be unlimited, but chastises those in his party who would dare think otherwise. Doing his Bush Republican best, Pawlenty said: “Parts of the Republican Party now seem to be trying to out-bid the Democrats in appealing to isolationist sentiments… (It) is wrong for the Republican Party to shrink from the challenges of American leadership in the world. History repeatedly warns us that in the long run, weakness in foreign policy costs us and our children much more than we’ll save in a budget line item.”
Added Pawlenty: “America already has one political party devoted to decline, retrenchment, and withdrawal. It does not need a second one.”
Pawlenty’s patter is perfectly progressive. With a $14 trillion debt, polls showing two-thirds of the American people opposed to the US interventions in Libya and Afghanistan and a Democratic president who can’t give us any clear reasons for those wars—Pawlenty says we must proceed full speed ahead. Why? Because we are “America” and we “must.” What is our national interest? Our “values” are our interest. Can we bear the cost? Pawlenty asks can we afford not to? True to liberal form, he even suggests it’s “for the children.”
This sort of nonsense is exactly how the Left has sold every major big government program in the last century, including ObamaCare. If conservative Republicans wonder today why we have such massive debt, they need to look at Obama and his liberal party—and the equally liberal GOP of Republicans like Tim Pawlenty.
Conservatism requires recognizing practical limits. Pawlenty’s latest platform recognizes neither practicality nor limits, making it the equally destructive Republican mirror image of the Democrats’ domestic policy. Pawlenty calls conservatives who do seek to limit government “isolationist.” If its name-calling such Republicans want, then that’s what they should get: Tim Pawlenty is a liberal. Not by the definition of this writer, but by the traditional definition of that term. Conservatives limit government and liberals consider it unlimited. The former Minnesota governor has made it perfectly clear on which side of this divide he stands.