Free-lunch Conservatives

by John MacBeath Watkins

Our political taxonomy puts "fiscally conservative" voters mostly in the Republican voting bloc, but this seems indefensible. The last Republican president to act in a fiscally responsible manner was George H.W. Bush, who realized that his party had no taste for real cuts in the budget and raised taxes to deal with the deficit.

Republicans hated him for that. Merely failing to deal the a budget deficit would probably have allowed him to be re-elected, but raising taxes was not acceptable.

Yet informs us that "...the Republican Party is most often credited with creating the fiscal conservative ideal, despite the big-spending tendencies of the most recent GOP administrations."

Substitute "fiscal conservative rhetoric" for "fiscal conservative ideal" and you'll have it about right. The Republican Party from St. Ronald of Reagan onward has been all about lowering taxes. Reagan claimed that the effect of his lower taxes would be such an economic boost that revenues would increase rather than decrease. When this did not turn out to be the case, Republicans chose to stick with tax cuts and invent a series of justifications.

Reagan vastly increased the size of the government and tripled the deficit. While there was some budget cutting early in his administration, it soon became evident that Republicans do not, in practice, want smaller government. They want government that spends less on Democratic priorities and more on Republican priorities.

In short, they want more goodies for their side, and they want to pay in less in taxes. This is not fiscal conservatism. It is free-lunch conservatism. It is the reason Republicans are the party of "borrow and spend."

The "fiscal conservative" label has been a bit of marketing genius, but at some point, our country is going to have to face the truth. The tax revolt and the anti-tax movement have never been about cutting government, they've always been about getting a free lunch. Oh, sure, Republicans have talked a good game about cutting the sorts of programs Democrats support, but since they've wanted to spend more on Republican constituencies, there's always been an element of "we cheat the other guy and pass the savings on to you!" in their rhetoric.

If you want a tax cut, and you want it paid for out of someone else's pocket, how fiscally conservative are you?

The concept of "the other" has an enduring appeal to Republicans of a nativist bent. About 13% of the people living in America at present are foreign born, a percentage last seen in the 1920, which were about the peak for the Klu Klux Klan, then preaching "One Hundred Percent Americanism"

Republicans have clearly campaigned against those who who are not 100 percent American by the standards applied by the Klan back in the 1920s -- White and native-born. Only what might be called the "Bundy fringe" have violated the law,as the KKK liked to do, but the nativists have this time allied themselves with the free-lunch conservatives. One group wants to cut a certain kind of spending that they think benefits "those people," the other wants to cut taxes regardless of the cost to later generations or society as a whole.

It's a marriage made in one of the inner circles of the Inferno.