Sunday, November 28, 2004

Stand and Deliver!

On the surface, the analysis of this recently concluded election cycle is easy to cast. The Republican Party ran the table with victories high and low. From the Presidency to the houses of Congress, from the Governor's mansion to the Statehouse, Republicans enjoyed a November like few before.

New majorities have been borne of these victories, and with them come rare opportunities. Conservatives can look ahead to January, when a great deal of business can be accomplished through new legislation and policies. It is a safe bet that the opportunity will be taken advantage of.

This is not breaking news. Pundits have spent much of the last month making the case for pity on the sad sack liberal, who has only anguish and trepidation for the near future. Liberals will helplessly look on as conservatives chart the course of this state and of the country. While certain that bad policy will be the rule of the day for now, liberals can only dream about 2006 and 2008, and hope Democratic leadership crafts a winning plan.

This is the kind of pain that delights most conservatives. For now, the whole range of conservatives are smiling.

But, behind some of the grins, there is a group within the broad spectrum of conservatives that is gritting its clenched teeth behind a half-hearted smile. While excited for the possibilities Republican majorities bring, this group shares a great deal of the anxiety liberals have in anticipation of the first wave of new policy that will soon greet us. This group is the fiscal conservatives.

It was not a series of referendums on capping budgetary growth that swept George W. Bush to re-election. It was a series of referendums on gay marriage. It was not a promise of lower spending that Mitch Daniels gave Hoosiers in addressing the $800 million budget deficit he will inherit. It was... What was it? There must have been more to it than Joe Kernan's negativity. Was it really sufficient that Daniels wasn't a Democrat?

For most fiscal conservatives there is a precarious balance between three pressures. Fiscal conservatives trust Democrats to do one thing- to increase the size of government, so they can't vote Democrat. Most fiscal conservatives couldn't bring themselves to vote for Libertarian candidates for fear that Democrats might win. They want to vote Libertarian, but they just can't do it yet, especially because the possibility of a Republican majority was imminent. Their trust in the GOP is waning, but fiscal conservatives were willing to give them one more shot.

This thinking is rooted in the past. It used to be that Republicans grew government, but at a much slower pace than Democrats. This was still troubling for fiscal conservatives who wanted their government to shrink, but these days, as the Bush Administration has shown, Republicans actually grow government faster than Democrats. It used to be that Republicans said, 'Only we can cut the size of government. Just give us the tools!' Now?

Well, now they actually have the tools. Fiscal conservatives want to see the chain saws blazing and front end loaders scooping out pork, but are afraid they will only see the penknife and the tweezers, if they see any cutting at all.

This leaves fiscal conservatives with a daunting prospect. If there isn't any cutting, but only more public sector growth, where should fiscal conservatives turn in 2006?

There isn't even the slightest chance that disaffected fiscal conservatives will turn to the Democrats. If their wishes are ignored, fiscal conservatives may finally part ways with the GOP and turn to the Libertarians.

The Republican Party's largest base constituency is on the line. Since Ronal Reagan left office, fiscal conservatives have put up with a lot of disappointment in the quest for one last great opportunity for the GOP to prove its' worth to them. Is a 10% reduction in spending across the board too much to ask? Is it genuinely impossible to find the courage to find a few redundant offices and departments and to eliminate them with the power of majority on your side?

If Republicans won't do the job of reducing spending this year, with their majorities at home and in Washington, fiscal conservatives will know that it is time to look for a new political home. They will have no choice but to conclude that if spending won't be cut this year, it never will so long as Republicans are in charge.

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