The biggest surprise of all, of course, is that real, per-capita spending has not just flattened under Barack Obama but has actually declined. Let’s get the qualifications out of the way: Part of 2009 spending, which was George W. Bush’s final budget year, is rightly recognized as belonging to Obama; spending is likely to boost up this year from last year; and all of Obama’s years are among the very highest in terms of real outlays.

Yet it’s absolutely the case that spending has flatlined under Obama just as it did under Eisenhower, Nixon, H.W. Bush, and Clinton.

The question is: Why does spending flatten at some times and not others? …

The one thing that seems clear to me is that the role political ideology doesn’t seem to explain much at all when it comes to spending. Ronald Reagan ran as a small-government guy but increased spending – even beyond military spending – massively. Ditto George W. Bush, whose small government rhetoric masked a Texas-sized spending habit. On the flip side, Bill Clinton ran as a liberal and so did Barack Obama; despite serious differences, both were willing to spend tax dollars. Yet their spending patterns betray no increase in spending year over year. …