Stockman's Diagnosis: Still True

It's the kind of op-ed that has one sitting up straight with the sting of fresh memory. Back in the 1980s, I was a Thatcherite. I believed in low taxes but I also believed in - you know - balanced budgets as a core principle of, you remember, conservatism. It was odd coming to America to be told that here, for the first time in human history, you could cut taxes and raise revenue at the same time! It was triply odd, coming from green eye-shade Thatcher-land, to hear that "deficits don't matter." In his first term, of course, even Reagan felt it necessary to adjust from this madness - a madness that, far from "starving the beast", simply made Americans believe that the beast never needed full funding. The first Bush, to his enormous credit, did the responsible thing - but was destroyed by his party for violating the no new taxes pledge. From that moment on, it became not policy but doctrine for the GOP. And the results of further tax cuts and further spending increases, mitigated by divided government in the 1990s, but unleashed in full force under Bush-Cheney, is what we face today:

By fiscal year 2009, the tax-cutters had reduced federal revenues to 15 percent of gross domestic product, lower than they had been since the 1940s. Then, after rarely vetoing a budget bill and engaging in two unfinanced foreign military adventures, George W. Bush surrendered on domestic spending cuts, too signing into law $420 billion in non-defense appropriations, a 65 percent gain from the $260 billion he had inherited eight years earlier.

No intellectually honest person can hold Barack Obama responsible for this long term sabotage of America's fiscal health. The spending he has authorized has to be seen in the context of the massive financial crisis that nearly caused the second Great Depression and may well still cause a lost generation of output and jobs and productive lives.

But the central point Stockman makes is that all of this was not conservatism as it should be, but the degenerate mockery of conservatism that has come to dominate the GOP: a blend of fiscal abandon, politicized religion, lawless foreign policy and utter electoral cynicism. Until this is confronted, owned and refudiated, we may have a Republican future ahead, but not a conservative one.