When McCain Was Good


Like a spectre rising from a dimly-remembered past, Phil Gramm appears in the Wall Street Journal to argue for John McCain's presidential bid. There's the usual boilerplate about his manly approach to the war on terror, but much of the op-ed promotes the McCain tenets you never hear any more.

The success of the Reagan program taught Sen. McCain that growth requires responsible, limited government and ever-expanding freedom. As he has said, "The answer to deficits is not to raise taxes or repeal the [Bush] tax cuts but to restrain our spending habit. If the federal government can not be funded by current revenues then we must reduce its size."

Others tell us that pigs have wings and we can have it all: more spending, more government, lower taxes and more freedom. John McCain's says that "tax cuts work best when accompanied by lower spending." Yes, he understands that cutting taxes creates the incentive to work, save and invest; and that sometimes you have to cut taxes first to get the economy going and then control spending. But in his common-sense view, as in the immutable laws that govern our world, you can't let government spend it and let the taxpayer keep it for very long. Nothing endangers the Bush tax cuts today as much as the spending orgy that the very proponents of those tax cuts allowed to occur.

Another thing that would endanger the Bush tax cuts—voting against them. McCain did that while Gramm was still in the Senate, so it's funny he doesn't bring that up. He's had a couple of come-to-Jesus moments in the last few years when he declared he was done with tax increases, but it's hard to know what he believes. More Gramm:

To ask if he would really take on the spending establishment that runs Congress is to ask if water will wet, if fire will burn. If you want to end the spending spree in Washington, he is your man.

This is actually one thing I hear from Republicans that don't even like McCain, that he's great on spending and an ally of Tom Coburn when he needs to be. But he's not out front on those issues, and he could be. McCain's lameness on this, and on other issues, demonstrates what happens when spending hawks become perpetual presidential candidates.