Defining conservatism down

Ever since Ronald Reagan left the White House in 1989 with the Departments of Energy and Education still intact, limited-government conservatives have become accustomed to disappointment. The struggle against the colossus is by its nature a losing one, and conservatives have learned to live with low expectations.

But do they have to like it so much?

As The Daily Caller’s Jeff Poor notes, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer laid down a celebrated defense of conservative principles Wednesday during a TV appearance with “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart. (Related: Charles Krauthammer squares off against Jon Stewart on the merits of conservatism)

While Fox News, where Krauthammer is a regular contributor, gave this one the headline “Krauthammer SCHOOLS Jon Stewart,” it’s hard to find anything in his peroration that would not please America’s clown prince of the earnest smirk. Krauthammer’s defense of conservatism avoided any hint of principle or ideology, instead relying on strictly technocratic measures: Liberal proponents of ever-expanding government deserve censure, Krauthammer argued, not because they’re wrong but because they fail to keep up with demographic and technological changes — by, for example, not revising Social Security age requirements fast enough to keep up with longer life spans.

“There’s no question of accepting the great achievements of liberalism, the achievements of the New Deal, of Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare,” Krauthammer announced. Then he took a swipe at Texas Sen. Ted Cruz before praising Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as a Republican who “has offered an alternative.”

This is no offense to Krauthammer, who is one of the few reasons to read the Post. But what exactly is Paul Ryan the alternative to? In his rise from congressional backbencher to eminently electable vice presidential candidate (like all candidates who get praised by the party for their “electability,” he lost), the pasty Wisconsinite has racked up the following conservative record:

Voted for President Bush’s $9.4 trillion Medicare Part D expansion in 2003.

Voted for the $287 billion highway bill of 2005, the pork-stuffed behemoth that briefly made “Bridge to Nowhere” a household term.

Voted for — and was a key supporter of — the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in 2008.

Voted for — was in fact one of only 32 Republicans to vote for — Bush’s December 2008 automotive bailout package, which later failed in the Senate. (Don’t worry, America. President Obama later grabbed money from the TARP to keep the UAW in business.)

Voted for the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001.

Voted for the USA PATRIOT act in 2001.

Variously voted for Head Start authorization, creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the invasion of Iraq, and assorted flag-burning resolutions.

While it’s true that having a far-left Democratic president in office has put a drop of mercury into Ryan’s spine, you need to look high and low to find any expansion of the size, scope, cost and intrusiveness of government that he has consistently opposed. What is wrongly said of the tea party — that they were fine with big government until Obama came along — could be more accurately said of Ryan.