'Fiscal Conservatism,' R.I.P.
The ongoing "fiscal cliff" debacle should put to rest forever the notion that "moderate" Republicans, who eschew social conservatism can still remain fiscal conservatives who favor smaller government.
The capitulation of John Boehner and the House Republicans to Democrat demands means that the Left's agenda will be tinkered with only at the edges, as the opportunity to force a desperately needed, bare-knuckled fiscal showdown was completely lost. For the near future at least, the laughably named economic policies coming forth from both Senate and House will be merely a matter of arguing over who gets what. That is because the entire congressional swimming pool is now dominated by sharks gripped by a nonstop feeding frenzy.
It has been extremely troubling to see leading Republicans defend what is essentially a Waterloo for the party, gathering up the crumbs from under his Lordship's table while barely crawling out from underneath, all the time proclaiming they will live to fight another day.
Just wait and see, they are telling us. Yes, we had to do the best we could under overwhelming odds and we had to raise taxes on the rich or worse would have happened. But just you wait and see. We will fight to the death over the debt ceiling.
Cynical and hardened observers of the political scene might be forgiven for placing bets on yet another Republican surrender. After all, who has confidence that there will be victory on the debt ceiling after such a humiliating and total defeat in which Republicans gave up their core issues of no taxation without spending cuts?
But perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe the demise of the chimerical creature known as the "fiscal conservative" is at last at hand. Remember that person? The "fiscal conservative," also sometimes know as the Republican establishment, was the one who said we conservatives should concentrate only on the economy and then after America was once again prosperous, we could pay attention to social issues.
Blue in the face conservatives warned time and again that there can be no split between social and fiscal conservatism. Time and again holistic conservatives -- those who see conservatism as principled polity affecting all segments and classes of society -- have explained that conservative principles are inextricably intertwined. They have argued that morality cannot be compartmentalized but must be applied to a cohesive weltanschauung if is to be a strong foundation for the societal edifice. Time and again conservatives with a comprehensive worldview have warned that separating out economic issues from the rest will inevitably weaken every other aspect of conservatism.
Time and again conservatives have been told our turn is coming; that if we will just be patient and put issues like abortion, public education, immigration, and foreign policy on the back burner while the fiscal and economic issues are addressed, we will have our day.
Well, now we know that even the economic issues will not be addressed, nor will government get smaller -- at least not in any meaningful way. We have suspected for some time, but now know with absolute certainty, that fiscal conservatism is a convenient fig leaf. We know it has been used as a mere ruse to ensure enough conservative votes were garnered for re-election. When push came to shove, the so-called fiscally conservative "moderates" turned out to be indistinguishable from Democrats. Hence the shark tank mentality that now pervades almost all of congress, as shameless and rudderless representatives of the people snarl and fight to the death over every piece of pork.
A spectacularly egregious example of a moderate who is a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative is found in the person of the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie. His recent behavior exemplifies the attitude of eponymously named "fiscal conservatives."
The governor has excoriated House members as unsympathetic to the victims of Hurricane Sandy. Maybe they were, maybe they weren't. But GOP congressmen recognized that they would be committing political suicide if they approved the first bill for relief from the damage inflicted by hurricane Sandy. There was too much tasty fodder in that bill for both parties' opposing candidates. The elections of 2014 would be a bloodbath for congressmen and women who voted for the elephantine "relief" measure.
Regardless of congressional instinct for self-preservation which has now resulted in a supposedly pared down imitation of the first bill, the fact is that the initial Sandy Relief Bill was so larded up with pork completely unrelated to hurricane damage that it swelled to twice the size of New Jersey's budget of thirty billion dollars. Sixty billion was to have gone for supposed hurricane relief.
But Christie did not attack the pork or the bloat. He could have said the bill needed revision so that funds were allocated for those who really needed the money, but no. He wanted the elephantine measure passed anyway. That's the mentality of a liberal Democrat, not the mindset of a conservative. It is revelatory of the mentality of "fiscal conservatives" regardless of what has recently transpired; namely a mere $9.7 billion for flood damage with $51 billion more to be voted on by January 15. For the "fiscal conservative," apparently thriftily dividing the 60 billion into two chunks saves money.
CBS News continues its report on the new, "clean" bill:
"Following the bill's passage through the Senate, Christie and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., lauded what they called a 'critical first step towards delivering aid to the people of New Jersey and New York.' But they emphasized that Congress' work is not finished.
'While we are pleased with this progress, today was just a down payment and it is now time to go even further and pass the final and more complete, clean disaster aid bill," the governors said in a joint statement. "We are trusting Congress to act accordingly on January 15th and pass the final $51 billion instrumental for long-term rebuilding in order for New Jersey, New York and our people to recover after the severe devastation of Hurricane Sandy.' "
Any conservative worth her salt could find almost countless examples of "fiscal conservatives" who, like Christie, are actually liberal Democrats.
But one can take hope and learn lessons from the current debacle. The demise of the always elusive "fiscal conservative" is almost certain, as he or she has completely surrendered the fig leaf of fiscal conservatism and now stands naked for all to behold. Not a pretty sight, but maybe a welcome one, as the emperor now known to have no clothes.
A modest prediction: finding a fiscal conservative in the future will be akin to sighting a centaur. The half-breed creatures may be doomed to extinction.
The days to come will reveal more fully the collapse of the great pretenses of fiscal conservatism and the end of hypocritical calls for smaller government.
But the collapse of both fictions may presage the revival of a conservatism that has a consistent, comprehensive, and redemptive worldview.
Conservatives should be grateful.
Fay Voshell may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org