Julian E. Zelizer: Sarah Palin Likes Government Too

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Julian E. Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Arsenal of Democracy " and a book on former President Carter to be published next fall by Times Books. He is also the editor of a new book about former President George W. Bush to be published next fall by Princeton University Press.]

During a speech at an event called "Freedom Fest," former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin warned Tea Party activists that while government spending was a bad thing, conservatives should not go too far and start calling for reductions in the military budget.

While Palin told the crowd in Norfolk, Virginia, "Something has to be done urgently to stop the out-of-control Obama-Reid-Pelosi spending machine," she also told them, "We must make sure, however, that we do nothing to undermine the effectiveness of our military."

Palin's speech touched on a historic problem for the conservative movement. Ever since conservatives embraced a hawkish stance toward national security policy in the early Cold War in the late 1940s and started to challenge Democrats for not being tough enough, national security has always been the poison pill for anti-government conservatism....

There was a time when there were prominent conservative voices that were more skeptical. Ohio Sen. Robert Taft, "Mr. Republican," tried to prevent the expansion of the national security state after World War II. Taft opposed President Truman as Truman pushed to grow the government in the fight against communism. Taft warned that total security was impossible and that if Americans created a garrison state to fight communism, politicians would destroy the "America we are trying to preserve."...

...[W]hen it comes to Republicans, Palin's recent comments at the conservative rally show why voters should take right-wing arguments about the dangers of government with a grain of salt. While conservative activists like to talk about a choice between big government and small government, the real debate is over what kinds of government we must have, what our priorities should be, and where our federal money should be directed.
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