In today’s Washington Times, Chris Edwards points out that there was once an alternative to the GOP for those who believed in small government.
There once were Democrats who fought to cut wasteful spending. William Proxmire, a liberal Wisconsin senator between 1957 to 1989 was famous for his “Golden Fleece” awards, which highlighted taxpayer ripoffs. Mr. Proxmire sent out a monthly report profiling spending that should be cut.
His 1972 book was titled “Uncle Sam, The Last of the Big Time Spenders.” When was the last time a Democrat wrote a book with a title like that?
Another reform-minded Democrat was Paul Douglas, a senator from Illinois between 1949 and 1967. He was a self-proclaimed liberal and champion of civil rights but also a critic of government waste who often said: “A liberal need not be a wastrel.” His 1952 book on cutting the budget argued “waste in the government benefits no one. It is a frittering-away of resources which could be used to improve the lives of people.”
I remember Senator Proxmire’s Golden Fleece Award. I also remember that media publicized it but didn’t really take it seriously — by the 1970s William Proxmire was an anachronism in his own party.
It does lead to a question, though; could there be a place for libertarians in the Democratic Party ? The way things stand today, the answer seems to be an emphatic no. The Democrats stand for the expansion of the state as much as the Republicans, if not more so, and there remains a distinct bias against capitalism in the party.
That’s not to say that it isn’t impossible that libertarians and/or fiscal conservatives could find themselves at home in the party of Roosevelt. If the GOP falls further under the spell of the evangelical right and continues to support the erosion of civil liberties in the name of security (although, in honesty, the Democrats haven’t been much better on this issue since 9/11), then an opportunity could develop for a real realignment in American politics. As things stand today, though, I find such an occurrence unlikely.
That said, Edwards has some wise words for Democrats, and a warning for Republicans:
[T]he Democrats should wise up and run a fiscal conservative for a change. Even better would be a candidate who outflanked the Republicans on pro-market reforms that benefited average families. Why not embrace privatization, for example?
There is no liberal purpose served by government ownership of Amtrak, the Postal Service and other businesses. Private enterprise could offer better services at lower cost. That would benefit the poor more than anyone.
Since their 2004 election defeat, some Democrats propose to win back voters by adopting a more socially conservative message. But social conservatives are comfortable in the Republican Party and have no reason to jump ship.
Fiscal conservatives are angry with the GOP’s direction in recent years, and they would warmly embrace a Proxmire-Douglas message that challenges the Grand Old Spending Party.
Hat Tip Hit & Run
Update: The mention of Sen. Proxmire reminded me of this story I saw last week about his battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.