Conservatives Abandoning the GOP?
The reality is the compromise would preserve the bulk of the earmarks treasured by the Senate’s Old Bulls while reducing funding needed by the military in the War against Terrorism.
This is the kind of fundamental smoke and mirrors dishonesty that has helped fuel the biggest increase in federal spending and entitlements since World War II … under a Republican Congress and a Republican President, both of which were elected in great part because they promised to complete the job begun by Ronald Reagan in 1981.
Since George W. Bush took office in 2001, he and the Republican majorities in the Senate and House have talked the talk on cutting federal spending and reducing the power and influence of government but they haven’t walked it. In fact, they have run about as fast as their political legs would take them in the opposite direction, piling up thousands of special interest earmarks, adding the biggest expansion of entitlement spending since 1965, pushing failed federal programs in areas like education to record heights and increasing the national debt to previously unimagined levels.
Put another way, they’ve done pretty much what a Democratic president and Congress would have done had the election of 1994 not prompted Bill Clinton’s hollow 1995 State of the Union proclamation that “the era of Big Government is over.”
He’s right, of course.
The thing is, I’m not sure that it will much matter politically. There are several reasons for this:
1. Neither the Democrats nor any plausible third party (A chimera: Third parties are not plausible. -ed.) offer a better alternative on spending. My guess is that the Democrats would spend about the same amount of money, with perhaps less devoted to Defense and more devoted to national health care and other social programs. The earmarks would simply go to their Big Bulls rather than ours.
2. Most voters love big spenders. Sure, polls will tell you that people don’t want tax cuts and prefer a balanced budget. They tell pollsters that because it’s what they think they’re supposed to say as responsible citizens. They don’t vote that way, however. People hate pork barrel projects, which they define as spending on things they don’t support that benefits people from somewhere else. Simultaneously, they demand their congressmen bring their share of money back to the state/district to support much needed jobs and infrastructure development programs.
3. Few conservatives vote mostly on non-tax fiscal issues. The Barry Goldwater-Jack Kemp-Phil Gramm wing of the Movement has shrunk while the social conservative wing has grown. National security hawks are also back in ascendency after a short dormancy in the 1990s. Because of that, the first sentence of this trumps the second:
Yes, Bush has been tough on defense, he has put two excellent conservative jurists on the U.S. Supreme Court and he persuaded Congress to cut taxes. But the nation’s increasingly perilous financial straits sooner or later will undermine even those accomplishments.
Indeed, this is mostly because:
4. Ronald Reagan severed Republicans’ commitment to fiscal responsibility. Reagan got elected in 1980 for a variety of reasons, most important of which is that he was the anti-Jimmy Carter. He ran on a diverse platform that focused on three planks: Massive rebuilding of the military, cutting taxes, and shrinking the size of government. Because of all of the above plus a Democratic Congress, Reagan decided that he would settle for the first two.
Reagan presided over a doubling in the size of the national debt despite a booming economy that was bringing in record revenues. This was not, as critics allege, because the tax cuts let people keep too much of their money but because Reagan and the Congress were spending the money faster than they could count it.
Reagan was re-elected in a landslide and was one of the most beloved presidents in history. Conservatives, including Tapscott numerous times in this post, still think of him as an icon. So, incidentally, does George W. Bush.
Ironically, there was another guy called George Bush who ran against Reagan, calling his policies “Voodoo Economics.” He eventually got elected president and raised taxes in order to pay for a very popular war. He failed to get re-elected and Republicans don’t like him all that much.
There’s a lesson in there somewhere.