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Is Thompson the Champion of Small Government?

His record, while slightly positive, is mixed:

Does Fred Thompson, then, offer an alternative for small-government conservatives? While he is not quite the second coming of Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan, a look at his record shows that he has generally supported limited government.

During his eight years in the Senate, Thompson had a solid record as a fiscal conservative. The National Taxpayers Union gives him the third highest marks of any candidate (trailing only Reps. Ron Paul and Rep. Tom Tancredo). He generally shared McCain's opposition to pork barrel spending and earmarks, and voted against the 2002 farm bill. He voted for the Bush tax cuts and has generally been solid in support of tax reduction. He has consistently supported entitlement reform, voting to means-test Medicare and supporting personal accounts for Social Security.

On federalism, there may be no better candidate. His Senate record is replete with examples of his being the lone opponent of legislation that he thought undercut federalist principles. He took this position even on legislation that was otherwise supported by conservatives. He opposes federal action to prohibit gay marriage on federalist grounds, although he supports state bans. One blight on this record is his vote in favor of No Child Left Behind, but he now says he opposes increased federal involvement in education.

On the other hand, he supported McCain-Feingold, although he has now backed away from that position as well, suggesting the law has been overtaken by events. He now says that he is willing to consider scrapping campaign finance restrictions in favor of full disclosure. And his position on civil liberties generally is troubling. He supported the anti-flag burning constitutional amendment and expansion of federal police powers generally. So far he has given no suggestion that he breaks with the Bush administration on important issues like habeas corpus, torture, and surveillance.

On foreign policy he has been a hawk, and supports continuing the war in Iraq. Thompson also appears to take the neoconservative line on Iran, North Korea, and China. It's hard to be a small-government conservative while favoring more widespread military intervention. War is a big-government program.

Full disclosure---I donated to Thompson's campaign. I don't know if I'll vote for him in the primary, but I want to see him run strong to ensure that the conservative base isn't drowned out by the siren song of the Left Wing Media in the primaries.



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