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Figures don't lie, but…

Issue: "Steve Largent," Feb. 13, 1998

There's no question about it: Bill Clinton is engaging in a pattern of deception. Using carefully chosen words, he is omitting pertinent information. His comments, however, are constructed in such a way as to leave wiggle room.

The Monica Lewinsky story? FBI files? Webster Hubbell? Whitewater? No, this is about the president's bold dissembling on one of his major policy claims.

"We have the smallest government in 35 years," Mr. Clinton proclaimed with straight-faced sincerity in his recent State of the Union Message. He repeated the claim last week as he submitted his 1999 budget recommendation to Congress.

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You wonder in amazement: "How was the leviathan of big government finally slain?" Simple. To end "big government" and create the "smallest government in 35 years" all President Clinton had to do was to redefine the terms.

Sure, making government smaller used to mean making it less intrusive and restricting it to constitutional and clearly defined powers. That was then.

This is now. In the era of Clinton-speak, the definition of smaller government is: "One that has fewer employees than before" (which the U.S. government does, primarily due to sharp reductions in defense-related personnel that came with the end of the Cold War).

But focusing on the number of employees is a "false measure" of the federal government's size, says Scott Hodge of the Washington-based Heritage Foundation think tank. He authored a 1996 study that discovered the obvious: Despite Mr. Clinton's claims that the "era of big government is over," that era is continuing apace. "What we should be looking at," Mr. Hodge told WORLD, "is how much government spends, how many programs it has, and what it spends its money on."

By these measures the federal government continues to grow, and it will grow larger still under Mr. Clinton's proposed 1999 spending plan, which calls for new initiatives in child care, the hiring of 100,000 new public school teachers, and an expansion of the fraud-plagued and financially troubled Medicare program.

Mr. Hodge argues that President Clinton's selective presentation of the facts regarding the size of government is "unbelievably dishonest." Would that it were. The facts show it is believably dishonest.

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