WHEN BARACK OBAMA won a second term, many conservatives and libertarians despaired. It seemed that the tipping point between the “makers and the takers,” between a constitutional republic and a social democracy, had been reached.
That was certainly vanquished Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s take. In a widely quoted postmortem conference call with supporters, Romney concluded, “What the president, the president’s campaign did was focus on certain members of his base coalition, give them extraordinary financial gifts from the government, and then work very aggressively to turn them out to vote, and that strategy worked.”
Romney then suggested this wouldn’t be a one-time event: “the giving away free stuff is a hard thing to compete with.” It’s an observation as old as FDR adviser Harry Hopkins’ (probably apocryphal) quote: “Tax and tax, spend and spend, elect and elect.” Only in a deficit-financed welfare state, the “tax” part is often treated as superfluous.
Not only are the demographics of the country gradually moving in the Democratic direction, but the number of clients of the welfare state is growing. With record numbers of Americans receiving food stamps, the baby boomers retiring and beginning to collect Social Security and Medicare, and increasing collusion between big government and big business, Obama’s reelection was hardly the only thing that seemed to guarantee government’s continued growth.
Yet the first year of Obama’s second term hasn’t unambiguously consolidated big government’s gains. Part of this is because the president has seemingly settled into the lame-duck funk that plagues many a second term. But there have been several developments impeding government growth, including some that will be hard to reverse.