Gray Flannel Dwarf

8/4/2005

Assuming the mantle: Fiscal Responsibility

Fiscal conservatism is dead…at least from a partisan perspective, anyway. I’ve been saying it for a long time, and it’s good to see the media beginning to cover this notion. Per MSNBC/WaPo, “GOP lawmakers embrace their spending side

From the article:

“If you look at fiscal conservativism these days, it’s in a sorry state,” said Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), one of only eight House members to vote against the $286.5 billion transportation bill that was passed the day before the recess. “Republicans don’t even pretend anymore.”

I’m also convinced that this is a serious opportunity for the Democrats, but not in a “swing voter” sort of way, so much as it is the opportunity to assume the mantle of fiscal responsibility. Democrats have long been viewed as the party of big government, and in the past that might have held some water. It’s different now.

These days, it’s just the opposite. While the current administration has been on a spending binge like none other, it didn’t start with GWB. Bush I and Reagan also had a love affair with federal monies, far outweighing Democrats over the past several decades.

So why not just assume the mantle? It’s the oldest trick in the GOP book — take a popular or controversial topic on peoples’ minds and proclaim themselves the saviour thereof. Why not borrow a page or two from them? It’s outright good strategy.

Think this is just an absurd idea? Consider this:

“There’s a rising level of frustration with the disconnect between where the vast majority of conservatives are in this country and how Congress is behaving,” said former representative Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), whose Club for Growth political action committee finances the campaigns of conservative candidates. “There’s going to be a wake-up call sooner or later.”

The tectonic plates of political parties are always shifting. During the civil rights era, a major political shift occured when many traditional southern democrats moved across party lines to the right, when they didn’t support the push for equal rights. During the 80s, Paul Weyrich and friends persuaded Jerry Falwell to mobilise his followers to march towards the right by promising a new religious revolution in America.

In these cases, and countless numbers of other smaller shifts, promises were made, common beliefs were held, but in reality, those groups were courted in an effort to increase the voter base. It may not sound like a pleasant way of doing things, but it is political reality.

Flake and Toomey’s statements in the quotes above are, I suspect, only stirrings amidst a larger undertow of discontent. I don’t doubt that there are a great deal of disaffected fiscal conservatives that can be added to the ranks of independents and political moderates who have grow weary — and wary — of the Right’s drunken pork-barrel frat parties.

What’s more, this can be done under the Democratic mantra of leveling the playing field. Consider this bit from the same article:

To fiscal conservatives, it is not just the total cost of the bills but also their content. At 1,752 pages, the highway bill is the most expensive public works legislation in U.S. history, complete with 6,376 earmarked projects, according to the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense. Kern County, Calif., home of powerful House Ways and Means Chairman Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R), snagged $722 million in projects, or nearly $1,000 per person. Los Angeles County, with clogged highways and 10 million people, will receive barely $60 per resident.

When something like this happens, they should be called out, and doubly rebuked, first for the excessive spending, but also for the unbalanced allocation of federal funds. In doing so, the opportunity is presented to welcome those who are fed up with the GOP’s massive spending while at the same time staying true to Democratic ideals.

The Democratic party simply needs to claim the mantle, but not by immediately criticising the Right. Doing this just inflames the rhetoric. Rather, the left needs to begin referring to itself as the “fiscally responsible party” and run with it.

The same thing can and should eventually be done with other supposedly-GOP traditions — personal freedoms, privacy, etc… because in reality, none of these are espoused by today’s neocon-run GOP. However, I believe that fiscal responsibility should be the first thing to which the Democrats should lay claim.

It’s like a big game of capture-the-flag, and in an effort to take over the playing field, the GOP has left their flag unprotected. It’s time to take it out from under their noses. For far too long the GOP has been able to simply take up the sword for some perceived common ideal, whereas the left has been perceived as the beacon for unorganised or loosely-organised political interests. However, having abandoned its base on many traditional, so-called “conservative” planks — and indeed, admirable ones, from the perspective of idealistic political populism — they’ve left the gate wide open.

Partisans have stuck with the GOP for two reasons, I’m guessing. One, because as I’ve said in the past, people want to be part of the “popular crowd”, and with the GOP in charge, who else could be moreso? However, I’m less convinced, anymore that this is the only reason — or at least, is the reason for only a certain subset of current Republicans. The other is the fact that they’ve simply been shown no real alternative. The GOP has abandoned the mantle espoused by traditional ideal-driven “conservatives”, but no one has taken advantage of this… and certainly not the Democratic Party. Already hesitant to change their ways in the first place — some of them are, after all, conservative — and having been shown no alternative, they’ve stayed where they are, despite being ever more disaffected.

People talk suspiciously about the results in the 2004 elections. They point to polls being rigged, and point out that exit polls had far different results. I don’t buy it. If that much of the electorate was gypped, I think we’d have seen far more angry voters, such as those in some Florida 2000 precincts. Rather, in my mind, the exit polls were so different precisely because people were embarrassed or ashamed to publicly voice support Bush, but hadn’t been reassured enough to privately vote against him. It is these voters who need assurance that the Democratic party espouses their traditionally-rooted beliefs.

Today’s Democratic leadership needs to espouse fiscal responsibility, needs to strive for it, and needs to call the Right out when they fail to deliver it. This is the only way to shift the political lines in the Democrats’ favour. This is not about a move to the centre, it’s about pulling the centre back into the fold. By staking claim to the traditional, populist American political ideals that the GOP once cherished but now abandons, the left can gain and retain a voting constituency. Furthermore, this can be done without alienating either the hard left or the ideals espoused by liberally-minded partisans.

These ideas are traditional common American values which were hijacked by the GOP, have since been abandoned, and it is the left, anymore, which truly espouses them. The left has not, however, been ardent in vocalising these claims, but if the Democratic Party truly wants to regain any sort of political bearing, it seems evident to me that it needs to begin doing so.


cswiii @ 10:01 am