The Revival Of Fiscal Conservatism

The best news in a long time comes via the Washington Post's new poll:

The GOP is a party that has become increasingly conservative, particularly on fiscal issues. Obama's stimulus package of nearly $800 billion, bailouts for banks and the auto industry, and a health-care bill with a price tag of nearly $900 billion over 10 years have aroused strong opposition on the right.

Almost three-quarters of Republicans and GOP-leaners identify themselves as "conservative" on most issues, up sharply from a couple of years ago... On fiscal issues, the percentage calling themselves conservative has soared to more than eight in 10. More striking is that a majority considers themselves to be "very conservative" on fiscal issues, up about 20 points in two years.

The better news is that Republican voters understand that the GOP is also responsible for the fiscal mess:

Just 1 percent pick George W. Bush as the best reflection of the party's principles, and only a single person in the poll cites former vice president Richard B. Cheney. About seven in 10 say Bush bears at least "some" of the blame for the party's problems.

The problem, it seems to me, is that most sane people understand that offering no stimulus this year and no bank bailout and no auto industry bailout would have led to an unemployment rate far higher than we have now, and a much, much steeper recession which would have compounded the debt, not helped it. McCain could have opposed TARP in the campaign but didn't. Maybe a president could have just said: let it all collapse, it will revive soon enough. I just doubt that any actual president could ever have actually done that.

And the bigger problem is: what do we cut now? If we are ruling out any tax increases, then huge reductions in Medicare, Medicaid and defense are going to be essential. Who is proposing that among the GOP leadership? Not even Palin. And the base is far less interested in obstructing climate change legislation than expanding private health insurance through public subsidy. So polarization may actually decline next year if health reform passes.

I'd say all this is grist for a third party Perot-style fiscal reform movement. Unless Obama gets there first and calls the GOP bluff on spending. But it isn't good news for the GOP. They have no serious leaders, no practical policies that can win a majority, and no coherent plan for actually reducing government and debt other than adolescent protests. Other than that, they're on a roll.