The Spectacle Blog

Fiscal 9/11

By on 8.15.06 | 10:38AM

When it comes to the issue of making true cuts in government spending, I'm a bit of a fatalist. In my view, the only way things will change is if we suffer a financial disaster on the scale of 9/11 as we collapse under the weight of the welfare state.

Pork projects such as the "Bridge to Nowhere" make great headlines, but at the end of the day the only way we're going to reduce the size of government is by making serious changes to mandatory spending on entitlements. Mandatory spending already accounts for a majority of the budget, and by 2016 it's projected to swallow up nearly two-thirds, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The failure of a relatively modest Social Security reform last year, with a determined president and Republican control of Congress, left me completely pessimistic about the chances of entitlement reform. While, in polls, people will say that they want smaller government and fear the Social Security crisis in general, when it comes to actually cutting programs that they like, they are opposed.

On Fiscal Conservatism

By on 8.15.06 | 9:42AM

Current politicos and would-be public servants love to describe themselves as fiscal conservatives and social liberals. It sounds so logical. We take a solid, quantitative look at the realities of money and budgets, but we recognize that there is nothing normative in the hazy realm of morality.

Unfortunately, the apparent coherency is only skin-deep. Social liberalism (as in moral laissez-faire with regard to sex, drugs, etc.) is an untenable position in a welfare state. You can't agree to pay for everything and then allow the partiers to empty out the coffers with their crazy behavior. Down that road lies financial ruin. We can't even talk about laissez-faire morality until the welfare state is scrapped or scaled back to a point we would find unrecognizable.

Re: Redefining ‘Fiscal Conservative’

By on 8.14.06 | 10:45PM

Tabin, three cheers. You're dead right. "Fiscal conservative" is as much a code as anything else used to cabin off right from left with a bad conscience. It stinks, I think, as bad as a certain smell rising from the corpse of Joe Lieberman. That corpse, of course, will walk again, as it should; but Pat Buchanan is not just whistlin' Dixie when he lambastes the Lieb's neocon hagiographers.

The last laugh is that actual fiscal conservatism is virtually a dead letter. The rabbit hole we've tumbled down has, as Sam Elliot put it in The Big Lebowski, "no bottom." The illness that has gripped American spendiness is terminal, until further notice -- in the household as well as the federal purse. We might have to tear down the GOP -- at least, for a laugh, as it's usually done, in primary season -- in order to tear down entitlement spending. This is one of those fine trades for which we have won compassion and security. It's bosh and we know it is. But who will step into the breach? Mike Pence?

Re: Redefining ‘Fiscal Conservative’

By on 8.14.06 | 8:30PM

I addressed this topic almost three years ago, when I observed that

A fiscal conservative may be untroubled by budget deficits or obsessed with them; may want to raise spending or rein it in; and may want to raise taxes or cut them. "Fiscal conservative" now means so many things that it means nothing for certain. It's a dream label for a politician: obscuring more than it reveals, it says to the vast majority of the electorate: Whatever you think, I agree.
I'm still sort of hoping that the taxonomy I created back then to explain the unbundled strains of "fiscal conservatism" will eventually catch on.

Re: Redefining Fiscal Conservative

By on 8.14.06 | 4:48PM

For a long time, I've thought that conservative voters should no longer be eager to get behind Republicans merely because of their support for cutting taxes. In fact, at this point I think it makes more sense to support a Republican who would keep taxes the same, but cut spending. Of course, in the long run, the only way to limit the size of government is through serious entitlement reform. But given last year's Social Security debacle, I'm not going to hold my breath.

Redefining ‘Fiscal Conservative’

By on 8.14.06 | 4:08PM

David Boaz at Cato notes that the mainstream media is in the habit of calling politicians who oppose tax cuts and support more spending as "fiscal conservatives." It's confusing until you understand what meaning the MSM imparts to "fiscal conservative". About two years ago I was talking to former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore who was complaining about various liberal efforts to redefined fiscal conservatives as any politician who increases spending as long as he supports the taxes necessary to pay for it.

Thus, the confusion evaporates: those politicians oppose tax cuts because those cuts diminish the revenue needed to pay for spending. And that, according to the MSM lexicon, makes them fiscal conservatives.

Containing Iran

By on 8.14.06 | 1:20PM

Writing in the Atlantic Monthly (subscription required), Jonathan Rauch argues:

Here are some things we have seen before: a nuclear-armed country with a brittle and aggressive ideology, world-revolutionary aspirations, and a belief in the historic inevitability of its triumph against a decadent and ultimately hollow West. In that country, an unpopular and divided regime, with hard-liners and relative pragmatists squabbling for influence. A crumbling resource-dependent economy. A paranoid worldview in which America is an omnipresent military and ideological threat. A tactical predilection for supporting and manipulating insurgent proxies around the world, rather than engaging in direct confrontations. Above all, a belief that nuclear weapons are strategically essential to deter the United States and maintain national prestige. . . .