Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Bring Back Mean Spirited (Not Compassionate) Conservatism

Following their congressional victories in 1994, Republicans set out an ambitious agenda of cutting taxes and reducing the rate of growth in federal government spending. After Democrats convinced a substantial percentage of voters that Republicans were "mean spirited" and repeated vetoes by President Clinton, Republicans had to settle for less than complete victory in their battle against big government. Following losses in the 1996, 1998 and 2000 congressional elections, Republicans adopted George W. Bush's compassionate conservatism. This new philosophy included conservative ideas, such as supply side tax cuts, and liberal ideas, such as spending more money on education and health care. Huge deficits have been the result. While Bush's compassionate conservatism has succeeded on the political front (delivering the Republican "triple" of the House, Senate and Presidency in the mid term elections of 2002) and has succeeded on the economic front (the economy is arguably growing faster than at any time during the past twenty years), the deficit is it's Achilles heel. Just as tax rates effect the amount of incentives offered to investors, workers and savers, government spending has the effect of shifting resources from private to public control, reducing efficiency and prosperity. And interest on the debt in the future will result from today's deficit spending. If the Republicans can increase their majorities in the House and Senate this November and Bush can get reelected, they must immediately readopt "mean spirited conservatism." They must make President Bush's tax cuts permanent and reduce the rate of growth of both entitlement programs and discretionary domestic spending. Such a transition from compassionate to "mean spirited" conservatism might pose political risk to the GOP. But, the nation's fiscal and economic health depends on it.