Notice that one can draw an arc from 1948, when Harry Truman was president, to 2010. The arc over-arches a V shaped pattern that began in the early 1990s and ended in 2009. The Bush administration and Republican Congress of the mid '00s began the upwarded-moving right-hand leg of the V shape pattern after 2000 by gradually reversing the spending cuts of the Republican Congress during the Clinton years. In other words, the federal government's best performance from the standpoint of an advocate of small government was during a Republican legislature and Democratic presidency.
The Obama administration and Democratic Congress have effected a radical shift from fiscal conservatism and the conservative consensus of the past 30 years. The Democrats' radical shift amounts to a return to the social democratic arc (in the above graph) of the mid twentieth century. In other words, the election of President Obama represents a return to the ideas of social democracy that were prevalent before the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.
The next graph above shows the growth of non-defense government spending as a percentage of gross domestic product since 1948. There were high post-World War II expenditures that were reduced during the Truman years. From the early 1950s, the Eisenhower years, through 1980 there was a rapid increase in non-defense federal spending. The election of Ronald Reagan changed the trend, but only moderately. Between 1980 and 2010, three decades during which small government conservatives had a voice in government, spending fluctuated but remained roughly constant.
President Obama's spending levels represent a radical break back to the pattern of the social democratic years of the early 1950s. Notice that the small government movement that President Reagan started did not reduce non-defense government spending. A Republican Congress impeached Bill Clinton and proposed cuts in the Contract with America, but was unable or unwilling to execute sharp reductions in government spending. The late twentieth century Republicans were moderate. For many in the small government movement they were too moderate. The Tea Party is on the avant garde of change on behalf of small government.
President Obama and congressional Democrats washed away three decades of moderation in a single, radical swipe. We of the Tea Party anticipate further radicalism from the Democrats. The Tea Party is insisting that the Republicans develop a taste for realistic change.
When defense spending is included in the ratio of federal government spending to gross domestic product in the above chart, several shifts become evident. Until the late 1980s, including the Reagan administration, spending increased. The difference between President Reagan and his predecessors was that he focused on defense spending and downloaded spending to the states via his new federalism. The military spending paved the way for the peace dividend of the early 1990s. As well, the Republican Congress gradually limited non-defense federal spending.
President Bush increased spending, partially for military reasons associated with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The shift was not nearly so pronounced as it was in the first year of the Obama administration with its stimulus package. It is true that Bush reversed much of the progress that the Republicans made from the early 1980s until 2000. However, Bush's spending increases were not so radical as Obama's.
The final graph is of state spending divided by Gross Domestic Product since 1948. There was a significant dip in state spending during the 1970s during President Nixon's new federalism and then a significant increase during President Reagan's new federalism.
During the Bush years state spending advanced once again. Currently, state and local spending divided by gross domestic product is at the highest level in history, and federal government spending divided by gross national product also is at the highest level in history. With the stimulus and health care law, the Obama administration has altered federal spending to fit the mid twentieth century pattern that had ended in 1980 (as represented by a line that can be drawn from early 1950s non-defense federal spending levels to the Democratic Party's spending level in 2009 or as an arc with respect to total government spending).
Advocates of small government may rightly conclude that the Republicans' chief error during the past 30 years was moderation. The Obama administration and the Democratic Congress are interested not in consensus but in a radically reactionary return to the social democracy of the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon era. The public rejected that consensus in 1980 and non-defense spending was kept roughly constant. This is consistent with a moderate perspective whereby the Republicans recognized the interests of a large segment of the population that still believes in the social democratic programs of the 1930s to 1970s. Many in the small government movement would like to see those programs wound down. However, the Democrats do not respect those who believe in small government in any way that parallels the respect that Republicans showed to Democrats. This needs to change if the Republicans hope to regain office.
Small government advocates do not believe that government solves problems; that the Obama health reform law will save lives; or that current government programs such as the department of education or the department of energy have succeeded. In future, given the radicalism that Democrats have shown, those who believe in small government have no ground to exercise moderation. The only explanation for doing so will be incompetence. Were the Democrats, like George W. Bush, moderate in their big government stance, moderation among small government advocates might be a realistic strategy. But to maintain a moderate bargaining position in the face of President Obama's radicalism would be absurd.
Hence the Tea Party. The mass media has been unwilling to comprehend the Tea Party's nature. When I Google the words "tea party racist" I obtain more than 2.1 million hits. But the Tea Party meetings I have attended have contained less racism than the average university faculty meeting. The Tea Party movement is not racist and it is non-violent. It is composed of people who were willing to accept the disappointing, moderate consensus of the Reagan and Clinton years, but whose moderation has been betrayed.