Political Hay

McCain’s Conservative Moment

Conservatives and the political crack cocaine of earmarks.

By 8.8.07

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John McCain has gotten it right.

It won't make him president, but it should bring conservatives up short.

In the days since the collapse of the I-35 W bridge in Minnesota, an uncomfortable truth has emerged for conservatives. The party that supports limited government has been revealed -- not for the first time (see: election defeats from 1954-1980 and others, most recently 2006) -- to be the home of what Barry Goldwater once derided as the "dime store new deal." To borrow from an old song, conservatives have fallen into the trap of believing we can do anything liberals can do, just for a few bucks cheaper. Heck, if we're from Alaska we don't even seem to believe that.

Don't believe me? Pull up the congressional websites of conservatives in the House and Senate running for president, then do the same for Democratic presidential candidates serving in Washington. Click onto their news releases and you will find boasting from all about their prowess in bringing home the federal pork.

When you can't tell the difference between Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama and Sam Brownback or Ron Paul, Tom Tancredo and Dennis Kucinich, you know there's a problem. Eliminate the names and the geographical references and you will have no idea who claims credit for the $40 million light rail project, the $5 million Polymer Research Center, the $2.14 million theater renovation, the $750,000 presidential library renovation, $750,000 for soy bean disease research or the $6,440,000 tow path.

The answers are, in order, Tancredo, Brownback, Paul, Clinton, Obama and Kucinich.

Do all of these people seriously believe the answer to the problems with structurally deficient bridges is -- more taxes? The liberals, sure. They believe raising taxes is the answer to a cloudy day. But the conservatives? Really? Is this what conservatism is really all about?

The problem here is that there are conservative members of Congress aplenty who appear to have accepted wholesale the false ideology of the New Deal as it was once attributed to FDR aide Harry Hopkins: "We shall tax and tax and spend and spend and elect and elect."

It is not the 1930s anymore. Hopkins' idea was tried. And it worked for a while until the obvious happened. Like filling a glass with water, eventually you reach a limit. That limit for most Americans began to be realized back in the 1960s and 1970s when the chickens that were the taxing realities of FDR's New Deal and LBJ's Great Society came home to roost. More taxes and relentlessly still higher taxes did not end poverty as promised. And Medicare, LBJ's signature government health care plan, which he said had "a few defects," is now defective to the tune of some $30 trillion in debt. So much for Harry Hopkins.

THE DAWN OF THE REAGAN ERA signaled that a majority of Americans had learned hard-won lessons in basic economics. If you raise taxes, you get less revenue. If you cannot bring yourself to make priorities in government just as you do in your own life (like, say, choosing between buffing up the old movie theater or fixing a rotting bridge), you will eventually pay the consequences. And relying on government to do things the private sector can do better is a major mistake.

Sadly, the lessons of Reaganomics appear to be forgotten by some conservatives, which is why Republicans lost their majority in 2006. After all, if the idea is to be a "dime store New Deal," why would voters not go for the real thing? If the idea is to addict oneself to the political crack cocaine that says there are no downsides to continually raising taxes and blowing them on restored movie theaters, fancy but unused trains, and spiffing up a president's house (now there's a good use for all that George Soros money!), then any liberal Democrat can fill the bill.

When people die as a result of a bridge collapse -- a bridge collapse! -- it should be time for American conservatives to pay attention to something John McCain, to his credit, has been saying consistently for years. When it comes right down to it, members of Congress, as repeatedly expressed in their spending choices, seem to care more about their own re-election. They appear unable to make tough choices, unwilling to go on record opposing projects in their own state or district out of fear of losing their seat.

Which raises the inevitable question as we approach 2008. Why bother to elect Republicans if they don't have the courage to stop spending like Democrats? What is the point of all the hoopla if conservatives have developed a political crack cocaine habit of their own?

The answer to the appalling experience that the people of the Twin Cities are enduring is not to snort another gram of the political crack that is raising their taxes. The answer is to stop taking the crack. Stop by cutting out the theater money and the soybean money, the light rail corridor or the presidential library money and the endless list of projects after that. In the federal transportation bill passed in 2005 at a cost of $286 billion -- that's billion -- there were over 6,000 earmarks.

If earmarks were cocaine Congress would be Colombia.

The idea that America doesn't have the money to fix its "infrastructure" without heading down the financial dead-end that is raising taxes yet again is, politely put, laughable. The idea that American conservatives don't have the will to lead a new generation of Americans to an understanding of the cold hard facts of economics, history -- and raw politics -- is not only not laughable, it is a disturbing tale of addiction. A tale that has now proved fatal to a number of Minnesotans.

It is a disappointment Senator McCain knows all too well. Maybe now someone will listen.

Jeffrey Lord is the creator and co-founder of QubeTV, a conservative on-line video site. A former Reagan White House political director and author, he writes from Pennsylvania.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.