On Tax Day, thousands of Americans held “tea parties” across the nation to protest out-of-control government spending and railed against the audacity of a federal agency that would dare to classify conservatives as potential “terrorists,” as suggested in a recent Department of Homeland Security report.

Big government not only costs too much money, but too much liberty, the protesters seemed to say. Noting the DHS report, talk host Sean Hannity joined the tea party chorus, “If you disagree with that liberal path that President Obama’s taken the country down, you may soon catch the attention of the Department of Homeland Security.”

He added, “I’m not Ron Paul’s biggest fan, but if you have a Ron Paul bumper sticker, you might be viewed as a radical by the government.”

But Hannity’s newfound anti-government libertarianism lasted no longer than the Fox News tea party coverage. And one week later, the GOP spokesman returned to his usual task of defending the most big-government, authoritarian Republican administration in modern American history.

On two consecutive nights, Hannity interviewed former Vice President Dick Cheney on his television program last week, as both men defended Bush’s “war on terror” and attacked President Obama, who they perceived as deviating from it. After listing many criticisms of Obama, Hannity asked, “Do you conclude it’s they’re naive, that maybe they don’t understand the nature of the war on terror?”

That depends on one’s definition of the war on terror. Using the excuse of preventing another 9/11, the Bush administration adopted the unprecedented doctrine of preemptive strikes, drastically increased the power of the executive branch, implemented expansive wiretapping and spy tactics against private citizens, ignored conventional standards against torture, and consistently refused diplomacy, preferring instead to categorize unfriendly nations as potential threats.

The phrase, the war on terror, itself is so open-ended and vague that it allows the growth of the vast government apparatus necessary to support what libertarian Lew Rockwell calls “the warfare state” to continue indefinitely.

Like the welfare state and its “war on poverty,” the warfare state and its war on terror are the perfect recipe for never-ending big government, as any war that can never really be won conveniently becomes a war we must never stop fighting. Just ask Sean Hannity.

Cheney fully understands the nature of the war on terror that he and his fellow neoconservatives have never had any intention of ending, which is why the same culprits who led the U.S. to war with Iraq are now lining up to enthusiastically support Obama’s war in Afghanistan. To date, Obama has not rescinded any of Bush’s wiretapping or spy measures, and the only foreign policy complaints neoconservatives can muster are that the new president does not endorse torture and would rather talk with Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, or Cuba than invade them.

What North Korea, Venezuela, Cuba, and, arguably, Iran might possibly have to do with any actual war against Al-Qaeda terrorists is a lost conversation, since the war on terror narrative is used to gloss over all distinctions, lest they interrupt the ongoing expansion of the warfare state. And although Obama has wisely dropped the phrase “war on terror,” he has not dropped his willingness to keep fighting — and funding — it.

Hannity is entirely too dopey to understand any of this; who knows, he might even believe Hugo Chavez was behind 9/11, North Korea trained the hijackers, and if only we had tortured Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator would have revealed Cuba’s secret terrorist training camps.

But in all seriousness, by praising the tea parties one week and then defending the Bush administration’s policies on torture and criticizing Obama’s diplomacy efforts the next week, talk radio has shifted the focus of conservatives from fighting government to defending it. Bush Republicanism is hardly worth defending.

That Hannity would admit he is “not the biggest fan” of Ron Paul, a man who was throwing tea parties before it was popular, yet is unquestionably a big fan of Dick Cheney, whose big-spending, Big-Brother administration was just as much a target for the tea partiers as Obama’s, is a perfect example of a common schizophrenia that continues to plague the conservative movement.

Conservatives who are serious about dismantling government would be better off demanding that Bush and Cheney be thrown in jail — and waiting for Obama officials to join them — instead of defending the Bush legacy. By backing men like Dick Cheney, conservatives are supporting the same arrogant and intrusive government they claimed to be against at the tea parties.

You can have small government or the warfare state, but you cannot have both. And conservatives who try will deserve both the big government and Big Brother they’ll inevitably get.

Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the “Morning Buzz with Richard Todd” on 1250 AM WTMA.

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