Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Spending Problem

A number of conclusions may be drawn from the presidential campaign. Republicans, led by Mitt Romney, lost, and Democrats, led by President Barack Obama, won. That datum you can take to the bank.

Republican Party internecine quarrels arise over the “why” questions.  Why did Mitt Romney lose? Why did Mr. Obama win? What are Republicans doing right, and what are they doing wrong?

Within the Republican Party, there are two schools of thought. The schools are as old and venerable as the modern Republican Party, which sprang, pretty much full-blown, from the brain of the late Bill Buckley.

One school holds that Republicans are not moderate enough to appeal to moderate Republicans and Democrats. This premise founders on the following datum: In Connecticut, centrist Democrats have been routed by progressives, a progressive being a liberal raised to the 10th power. There is no longer a live and effective middle to Connecticut’s state Democratic Party. Most of the Democrats enjoying power positions in their party have abandoned the liberal ship for the progressive dinghy.

Some few commentators who continue to speak reverently of “the vital center” are simply remembering with great affection a political order that has vanished in Connecticut and, perhaps more broadly, in New England.

An opposing school holds that Republicans are not conservative enough. Moderate Republicans in the Northeast, they point out, are a vanishing species. In Connecticut alone, moderate Republicans have fallen to Democratic opponents in numbers too astonishing to ignore. U.S. Representatives Nancy Johnson, Rob Simmons and Chis Shays all were defeated in office by purportedly moderate Democrats who now style themselves progressives. Indeed, Chris Shays was the last moderate Republican U.S. House member in New England.

The fallen Republican bodies seem to cinch the argument of those on the right who say that moderatism – if one may invent a word – is responsible for Republican losses in the Northeast. A robust conservatism elsewhere in the country continues to produce congressional and gubernatorial winners. In Connecticut, the entire U.S. Congressional delegation is Democratic and progressive. Both houses of the General Assembly are dominated by Democrats. And in 2011, Dannel Malloy, for many years mayor of Stamford, became the first Democratic governor in the state since former Governor William O’Neill hung up his spurs more than 20 years earlier.

Running on a “shared sacrifice” slogan, according to which everyone in the state should bear their fair share of misery, Mr. Malloy was able, by cutting Republicans out of budget negotiations, to push through the Democratic dominated General Assembly the largest tax increase in state history. Some Republicans quipped at the time that Mr. Malloy, always an aggressive political competitor, may have felt himself in competition with former Governor Lowell Weicker, a self-styled “maverick” Republican who had imposed upon Connecticut the state’s second largest tax increase. The Weicker income tax had been resisted vigorously by previous Democratic governors William O’Neill and Ella Grasso.

Mr. Malloy’s promised savings were largely amorphous, which hardly seems a fair shared sacrifice. Even after he had imposed the largest tax increase in the state’s history, Mr. Malloy has had great difficulty balancing his budgets.

Recently Mr. Malloy has been criticized by Republican state legislators – two of whom, Larry Cafero, a member of the state House for 14 years, and John McKinney, a member of the state Senate for as many years -- as having adopted discreditable budget balancing methods, a charge deployed effectively by Mr. Malloy during his first campaign against his two Republican predecessors, Governors Jodi Rell and John Rowland. Like President Barack Obama, Mr. Malloy inherited his red ink.

Both Mrs. Rell, often criticized by Connecticut’s left of center media as an indolent governor, and Mr. Rowland, were styled as Republican “firewalls” who thwarted improvident spending. In truth, neither was effective in preventing the Democratic dominated General Assembly from readjusting Republican budgets to accommodate more spending. Taxation and consequent spending have increased under a Democratic regime that regards firewalls as momentary obstacles to be overcome.

Indeed, spending is a problem Republicans, both nationally and in Connecticut, seem powerless to confront. The rhetorical ammo that might be effectively discharged in a campaign against improvident spending is simply absent. The central pillar of the Romney campaign was not improvident spending but rather over taxation and consequent economic anemia.

The last president who put a sizable dent in spending, budget reduction and taxes was Calvin Coolidge, styled by Amity Shlaes, the author of “Coolidge,” as “the Great Refrainer.”  Even the sainted Ronald Reagan spent money like a class-warfare intoxicated Democrat; the federal budget rose by over a third during his administration. Connecticut’s Yankee Institute will host Ms. Shlaes, who believes Mr. Coolidge may serve a model for a reinvigorated Republican Party, at the Stamford Sheraton on March 28. Information is available here.
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