William F. Buckley

The Republican Party's spokesmen don't much bother to defend their votes. We have a Republican president who pledged to reduce public spending, and we have a Republican-dominated Congress with appropriations committee heads also pledged to reduce discretionary spending. They will tell you, on the hustings, that the spending increases are owing to the defense against terrorism. And they are right, in part -- military spending is up 34 percent in the last two fiscal years. Yet as a share of the economy, defense spending remains well below its highs of the 1980s. Then, the military took 6 percent of the GDP; now, only 3.8 percent.

It is the other stuff that mounts and mounts, and on top of these expenditures we have now locked in an estimated $400 billion extra for the revised Medicare program. Nobody with a first-grade diploma believes the spending will stop at a mere $400 billion. The burden of the denunciations of the bill by the Democratic candidates was that it had not gone far enough in spending. Until the marginal aspirin is paid for, special interests -- defined as potential voters for the Democratic presidential candidate -- will not rest. The great epiphany will come only when a stray camera catches you giving an aspirin to your neighbor at the very same moment your neighbor is giving you an aspirin.

There is demoralization in the scene. Never mind that George W. promised to reduce federal spending: The fact of the matter is that he has not done so. What he has reduced is the use of the veto, reduced it to zero, the veto being the presidential instrument usable for good causes and bad, but indispensable to curb capricious exploitation of the public purse. For fiscal 2003, appropriators stuck 9,362 projects into the 13 appropriations bills, an increase of 12 percent over last year's total. In two years, these projects have increased by 48 percent. Total pork, if correctly identified by Citizens Against Government Waste, adds up to $162 billion since the inauguration of Mr. Bush.

There are of course shoals out there. They are economic realities. They drain the value of the dollar and the vat of human enterprise. But there is something else to look out for, which is the credibility of democratic practice. If everybody preaches A while condoning B, you get not only inflated costs, but deflated confidence in democratic government.

William F. Buckley

William F. Buckley, Jr. is editor-at-large of National Review, the prolific author of Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography.

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