Perhaps the most telling thing about where the modern conservative movement is now, however, is their pledge on spending which says that “with common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops we will roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels.” Of course once you except Social Security, Medicare, and defense from cuts you’re talking about not touching the government’s three largest programs. So notwithstanding all the rhetorical flourishes throughout the document about small government, liberty, etc. that try to paint a portrait of broadly conflicting philosophical visions about the size and scope of the federal government you actually see a rather narrower difference of priorities. Are they pledging to cut spending while leaving intact programs that support the poorest Americans? No. Are they pledging to cut spending while leaving intact the most effective programs? No.
Instead it’s a plan that says we’ll cut spending on children, the poor, and the next generation’s infrastructure in order to ensure that taxes can be cut on the rich while protecting our own base constituencies—old people, defense contractors, veterans—from the scythe.
It’s been clear for a long time that the difference between conservatism and liberalism, in practice, is not a preference for “small” versus “big” government.