Abandoning Conservatism Normalized Biden’s Agenda
Last month, political analyst Chris Stirewalt wrote a piece that I keep thinking about. It covered the decline of small-government conservatism over the past 25 years, to the point where it is now effectively dead… with neither party doing much mourning over it.
“The best way to gauge the success of American political movements,” Stirewalt writes, “is not by the depth to which they shape their native party, but the breadth to which they extend into the opposing side.”
Stirewalt explains how, by this measure, liberals have decidedly won the war of governing philosophies.
For example, in Joe Biden, we have a president who ran for office just a few months ago as a moderate, but recently (and rather casually) proposed a White House budget calling for $6 trillion in spending next year (good for a nearly $2 trillion deficit), with the spending level increasing to $8 trillion, each year, by 2030. The plan far outweighs anything we’ve ever seen from any other Democratic president, and a few years ago, the price-tag would have shocked America’s collective conscience.
But not so much today. In fact, Biden’s huge spending proposals (including March’s incredibly wasteful $1.9 trillion COVID-19 recovery package) haven’t been met with much public or political blow-back at all.
Is it because Biden, with his blinding energy and limitless charisma, has done an exceptionally effective sales job? No, not quite.
The real explanation is that we’re dealing with a different baseline than we were a few years ago.
It would be one thing if the two major political parties in this country were still locking horns over the proper size and scope of government (as was the case during the Obama era), but under the last administration — a Republican one — the national debt grew by a whopping $8 trillion… in just four years.
Sure, you can blame some of that on the pandemic, but Trump was presiding over record spending and debt accumulation before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19. The same was true of U.S. trade restrictions that led to a huge uptick in government subsidies. What conservatives justifiably considered “runaway spending” and “runaway government” during the Obama years was weirdly deemed just fine or even necessary, by the same people, during the Trump era.
That normalization, in deference to a cult of personality, was a gift to progressives… and by extension, Joe Biden.
“Biden finds an opposition rooted not in conservative objections to big government itself but rather in a desire for its members to be the ones wielding the power,” argues Stirewalt.
He’s right. Another way of putting it is that lots of self-described conservatives, who largely circled their wagons around conservative tenets up until about five years ago, have joined the left as disciples of big-government progressivism — just a different strain of it. The GOP has surrendered the “limited government” battlefield to an increasingly far-left Democratic Party, having ultimately decided that it’s easier to engage on smaller battlefields, fighting — cable-news style — over far less consequential wedge issues that often don’t even have a political solution.
The problem with such negligence is that reality and math haven’t gone on sabbatical. Our national debt is racing toward $29 trillion. It’s the biggest, most predictable threat our country faces — a looming debt crisis that will bring hardships worse than my generation has ever seen. And right now, it’s the Democratic Party that’s at the wheel, speeding us toward that cliff, seemingly without a fiscal care in the world.
The country needs a strong Republican Party to oppose them — one that is guided by a commitment to country and familiar principles, rather than one man’s ego and the poorest instincts of an impressionable base.
The case for sane fiscal policy and limited government needs to be made, and made loudly and persuasively… even if it requires the bitter swallowing of a years of glaring hypocrisy. As Stirewalt points out in his piece, it can and has been done in the past (and not all that long after the effort was widely deemed futile).
Regaining the battlefield and changing the baseline will require a lot of will and political courage. I haven’t seen much of either in the Republican Party lately (other than examples of it being punished internally), but I’m hoping, at some point, that necessity will prove to be the mother of re-invention.
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