Politics & Media
Mar 22, 2013, 06:14AM

Republicans In a Coma

A review of James Antle III’s Devouring Freedom.

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Any number of conservative authors could skillfully catalog the fiscal sins of the Democratic Party. Very few could make it understandable, let alone entertaining. First-time author W. James Antle III does all of this, with no party left behind, in an even-handed diagnosis and prescription for Washington’s fiscal recklessness.

In Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? (Regenry), Antle takes readers on an exclusive VIP tour of government extravagance. He points out that the American people overwhelmingly favor fiscal restraint, which is why successful Democrats run as deficit hawks and tax cutters. He dusts off Sen. Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign promises of lowering taxes (including capital gains taxes on small businesses) and halving the deficit and compares it with the reality of $6 trillion in new debt since President Obama’s first inauguration.

After building a sturdy conservative soapbox, Antle unleashes some fact-based brimstone on the GOP, including prominent former office holders Gov. Mitt Romney, Sen. Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and President George W. Bush (who he refers to as “the nominally Republican president who outspent Clinton.”).

On issues like RomneyCare, No Child Left Behind, and Medicare Part D, Antle states the hard truth that for too long, the Republican establishment has been the Democrats’ “partner in big government.” He also warns that “Republicans who are committed to the fight against big government may have to fight their leaders first,” and gives examples from Rep. Steve Largent in the 1990s and Rep. Jeff Flake in the 2000s (Flake is now Arizona’s junior U.S. Senator, where he is likely to lock horns with party leaders there.)

He slams the House GOP’s standard bearer: Rep. Paul Ryan. The original “Ryan Plan,” Antle writes, wouldn’t even balance the budget until 2063. He describes Ryan’s votes for the auto bailouts, TARP, and Medicare Part D as “…leading the way for bigger government.” Those very issues gave rise to the Tea Party, which Ryan says he supports. Even the most informed conservative might be unpleasantly surprised to read Rep. Ryan’s quote, “I’m not trying to win an award from the CATO Institute.”

An editor at The Daily Caller, Antle has worked for The American Spectator and The American Conservative. His writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, Politico, The Boston Globe, Reason, National Review Online, among others. He’s never been a mere cheerleader for “Team Elephant”—Antle opposed the Iraq War and was an early critic of President Bush’s massive non-defense discretionary spending increases.

For years, Antle has brought his oft-quotable wit to complex topics. “Like most presents from Washington,” he writes in Devouring Freedom, “the program came ‘taxpayers not included.’” Another gem: “Big government is the only institution that is touted as the solution to its own failures.”

Antle soberly reminds conservatives of the challenges they face. “Even if Barack Obama had never been elected, allowing federal spending to grow on autopilot after 2008 would have pushed us toward a full-blown, European-style welfare state,” he writes. Though Antle seasons his book with rays of hope, perhaps for a deflated conservative audience (“Divine Providence has pulled this nation back from the abyss before”), the most instructive tales involve the absolutely corrupting power that is Washington politics.

For example, Antle examines Chief Justice John Roberts’ deciding vote on ObamaCare. He says that if a lifetime Supreme Court appointee can’t resist outside pressure (as CBS’s Jan Crawford reported), who can? Antle also writes of 86-year-old Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), who, despite being from a safe district, refused to vote his conscience, simply because he wanted to return to D.C. Bartlett lost in 2012, despite his yielding.

Antle credits the Tea Party with pressuring the GOP establishment from the right on spending and cites examples of principled elected officials who have refused (so far) to waver in the face of intimidation from their party leaders. He also explores the Libertarian Party’s and Ron Paul’s effects on the 2012 electorate, pointing to post-election analyses from Human Events and The Daily Kos that show the GOP lost nine races in 2012 by margins smaller than the Libertarian vote total (including the race for U.S. senate in Indiana).

In a nod to Ronald Reagan’s famous 1964 speech, “A Time for Choosing,” Antle’s chapter “A Time for Fighting” lays out a simple strategy for turning our fiscal ship around. His suggestions for the GOP are many, though his best is simply to augment “…the Taxpayer Protection Pledge with anti-spending pledges.” In his farewell address, Reagan said: “When government expands, liberty contracts.” The consequences of ignoring this warning have been dire. Antle’s book is a mirror held up to the Party of Reagan.

—Brian Kirk, who’s known James Antle since college, is an opposition researcher for conservative candidates. He is also host of The Source, a humor-infused political podcast, and is a frequent guest host on The Morning Rush (Newsradio 1290 WJNO). He can be reached via kirkspicer.com.


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