E.J.'s tears are useless. He spends the bulk of today's column weeping for retiring Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, that elusive liberal Republican, and pining for the Rockefeller, middle of the party. How bland: yearning for something neither here nor there, the vague middle. The good Catholic boy from Gonzaga should know milquetoast has few takers.
As TAS readers know, when a liberal columnist lauds a Republican, it's because he's done something liberal, is a liberal, or can be used for liberalism. Boehlert's long been a favorite of Dionne's, first appearing in his column in 1998:
"I get the message loud and clear that people want a smaller, less costly government, but I don't get the message that they want us to dismantle the federal government," Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) asserts. "To think of continuing to slash away at the federal government, to pare it down to the bone, is excessive."
Ah yes, the cuddly compassionate conservative, pre-Bush 43. But in today's column, Dionne apparently forgets his past columns and recent struggles within the Republican Party when he defines the mystical middle that Boehlert represented:
But it turns out that a Republican Party dominated by conservatives is no more coherent than the party that left room for progressives. The huge budget deficit is conservatism's Waterloo, testimony to its political failure. The conservatives love to cut taxes but can't square their lust for tax reduction with plausible spending cuts. Oh, yes, a group of House conservatives has a paper plan involving deep program cuts, but other conservatives know that these cuts will not pass, and shouldn't.
Dionne knows that conservatives do lust for spending cuts. The only problem is that there aren't many conservatives left in Congress, as we witnessed in both houses last week. And when Dionne modifies "spending cuts" with "plausible," the implication is obvious: he doesn't want to make the tough choices that the House Republican Study Committee introduced in their slim balanced budget, "the Contract for America -- Renewed." Even though the federal government is incredibly bloated and inherently wasteful, Dionne's solution is more taxes.
Conservatives with memories of the Clinton years will recall that liberal fondness for balanced budgets is a new phenomenon -- just another way to attack tax cuts and Republican control of the White House and Congress. One needn't search too far back to find Dionne spouting the same thing:
Democrats spent a lot of money last year arguing that there are things even worse than a budget deficit, such as efforts to balance the budget in the wrong way. Democrats who made such arguments and then turn around and support the balanced budget amendment will prove themselves to be even more dangerous demagogues than the Republicans. Many of the Republicans, at least, truly believe that balancing the books, every year, is more important than anything else. They're wrong about that.
Dionne knew then what he won't say now: balancing a budget is a matter of priorities. Dionne and his liberal allies, like Rep. Boehlert, would rather grow the government. Conservatives would rather send money back to the folks who earned it and shrink the government.
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