For a glimpse into why American conservatism really is intellectually dead, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal is a pretty good start. Daniel Henninger today pulls a Mark Levin, turning a deeply difficult series of choices about taxes and spending into an abstract debate between two theories. And the description of those two theories would flunk a paper in political theory in a freshman class.
The question is how to tackle the mounting debt and current deficit. Henninger accepts that the debt is "dangerous". But he seems to believe that any tax increases at all to counter it would be more dangerous. This is position worth arguing - and I'd agree that the bulk of the deficit reduction should come from spending cuts (and would support the very harsh cuts in Medicare, Social Security and defense to get there.) But I'm not nuts and understand that sustaining the Bush tax cuts indefinitely and providing no additional revenue source means an austerity that makes David Cameron look like the tooth fairy.
So what would Henninger cut? He doesn't say. He cannot say. He wants to have an abstract debate about big government vs small government or taxes vs spending or liberty vs tyranny - a debate that, as long as it is held in such comic-book forms, he will win.But if that is the debate we are going to have, we will all lose. The entitlement crisis and the war debt began far before Obama's term in office and represent deep structural deficits that were ignored during the spending spree and tax bonanza and off-budget wars of the Bush administration that Henninger slavishly supported.
He also has this fathomlessly cynical thing to say:
Somewhere, George W. Bush must be laughing. Amid 9.5% unemployment, Democrats must deal with the expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts.
Laughing? Laughing that he bequeathed his successor a bankrupt government, two lost, counter-productive wars, an unfunded, budget-busting Medicare entitlement, and a tax structure that simply cannot be sustained without massive cuts in defense, Medicare and social security? Are partisan games and dumb-ass generalities and no specifics on spending cuts really what's left of Republicanism?
If so, and you are a fiscal conservative, your only serious (if horribly tainted) choice is the Democrats. The Republicans are still quite bonkers.