"Don't tread on me" -- the rallying cry emblazoned on the Gadsden flag -- might as well have been the official motto of the Tea Party.
If there is one central theme to the most politically effective movement in recent memory, it's that the federal government needs to get out of our lives.
Which is why it is so disheartening that Rick Santorum has become the supposed conservative alternative to Mitt Romney in the Republican primary. You would be hard-pressed to identify a Republican who better embodied the Bush era's failed big-government/compassionate conservatism experiment.
Here is what Santorum told NPR about the role of government in 2006:
"This whole idea of personal autonomy, well I don't think most conservatives hold that point of view. Some do. They have this idea that people should be left alone ... [that] government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low, that we shouldn't get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn't get involved in cultural issues. ... Well, that is not how traditional conservatives view the world and I think most conservatives understand that individuals can't go it alone."
True, individuals "can't go it alone." But that doesn't mean the federal government has to be the one to help. Families, churches, community groups, even local governments, are just some of the places individuals can get support.
But Santorum believes the federal government should play a much larger role. Here are just some of the ways Santorum encouraged federal government growth while in Congress:
» He supported national standards for "every school in America" and voted for the No Child Left Behind law, which greatly expanded the federal government's role in education.
» He voted for the creation of a massive new Medicare drug entitlement, as well as the start-up-firm-killing Sarbanes-Oxley financial regulation bill.
» He once authored legislation to raise the minimum wage and voted repeatedly to protect the federal government's wage-fixing Davis-Bacon law.
» He voted against NAFTA in 1993 and for steel tariffs in 1999.
» He voted to protect milk subsidies in 2005 and to impose a tax on imported honey.
» He voted for the 2005 highway bill, which included the Bridge to Nowhere, and recently defended earmarks on Fox News: "I'm proud of the money that I did set aside for things that were projects in my state instead of having bureaucrats do that."
And where Santorum's economic plan does differ from those of his primary competitors, it does so on the interventionist side. He wants to create a slew of new tax loopholes, including a zero percent tax rate on manufacturers.
That may sound nice, until you realize that the only people the provision would employ would be lawyers and lobbyists fighting to make sure their clients qualified as a "manufacturer" under the tax code.
The worst part about Santorum's big-government social conservatism is that it gets the relationship among government, family and freedom exactly backward. As the Heritage Foundation's Ryan Messmore explains, the key to strong families is a limited government, not an expansive one:
"As government claims responsibility for more tasks, it absorbs the allegiance that citizens once placed in other relationships and forms of association. ... This encourages citizens, instead of looking to their families, churches, or local communities for guidance and assistance, to depend on the government for education, welfare and various other services. ... Excessive bureaucratic centralization thus sets in motion a dangerous cycle of dependence and social decay."
The Tea Party has made great strides moving the Republican Party away from Bush's big-government compassionate conservatism. Electing Santorum would be a step in the opposite direction.
Conn Carroll is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.