Daily Planet, 7/2014

In a recent fit of self-inventory, I was surprised to discover that I’m an economic, or fiscal, conservative.

My family lives within our means, below the lifestyle we possibly could afford. Our budget is balanced and we avoid debt like there still were debtors’ prisons.

And what’s more, my beliefs carry over to politics.   I’m a fiscal conservative there, too, albeit on my own terms.

But then that seems to be the way it is with most fiscal conservatives.

The Constitution definitely calls for limited government. That was the Founder’s vision. Then Jefferson wanted to buy Louisiana, and that meant debt. Then Madison had the War of 1812. Real hard-nosed fiscal conservatism doesn’t show its head again.

Ronald Reagan tried. He started in 1981 with massive tax cuts, good fiscal conservatism right out of Edmund Burke. Unfortunately, after eight years of raising and lowering taxes, the net loss in federal revenue tripled the national debt. He wanted defense spending more than he wanted a balanced budget.   Beating Russia was his Louisiana.

That’s not my kind of fiscal conservatism.

Then George W. Bush, after inheriting a budget surplus, cut taxes, passed a prescription drug plan and fought two wars – and paid for none of them. Dick Cheney famously said to the Treasury Secretary, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.” So like Reagan, Bush multiplied the national debt while in office.

It seems that Republicans only get upset when tax money is being spent on Democratic programs. That’s bogus fiscal conservatism.

Today’s GOP is political abstract art. On paper, its various factions all want to reduce the size of government and government spending. But for their own ends.

The Tea Party, a diverse collection of angry anarchists, wants really small government. They have no plan for actually governing. Libertarian types (like North Carolina’s own Art Pope) want government out of the way to clear the way for 19th century whoopee capitalism. Social conservatives (whom Libertarians scorn as wanting to restrict freedom for morality’s sake) ride the GOP wagon in order to crush abortion and homosexuality.   They aren’t fiscal theoreticians.   And then there are the so-called “moderates” who actually want to govern.

While a thread of fiscal conservatism does run through them all, I wouldn’t be seen dead in that fabric.

No, my man is Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City. He says balance the budget – something Reagan and G.W. Bush didn’t do but Bill Clinton did – is what’s important. This is best done, he believes, by improving the efficiency of government so government spending can be cut. That’s his definition of “small government.” That’s where I am. Like my family, government should live within its means and pay as it goes.

Ideological government-cutting is naïve. If government were to be powerless, the vacuum would be filled by smart, slick, greedy…bad people. Everybody knows that.

Where I break with Republicans altogether is their willingness – no, their desire – to cut government spending at the expense of alleviating the people’s pain. Cutting Medicaid spending, school budgets, services to the mentally ill, etc., etc., is wrong, wrong, wrong.

I believe in a balanced budget, and I know government can spend its money more effectively. After all, the biggest enemy of government efficiency is the appetite that all politicians have for government slush in their districts. I like tough-minded lawmakers who look at staff jobs, new bridges, anywhere waste might be lurking. But I want this tough-minded person to have a soft heart toward the people. They come first.

I can’t go back to the dark days of small government and unprincipled capitalists in the 19th century. I’ll balance the budget with taxes if necessary.