Politics

Holding Out For a Fiscally Conservative Hero?

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Is this what John McCain sees when he looks in the mirror?

A Washington Post poll of Republicans yesterday shows a party with renewed interest in fiscal conservatism:

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. …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.

And those who identify with the party, thank goodness, are no longer inclined to view Bush as their leader. "Just 1 percent pick George W. Bush as the best reflection of the party's principles," according to the Post.

But here's the problem: Bush may be out of favor, but there is no clear leader to replace him, especially when it comes to fiscal conservatism. Arnold Kling put up a useful, if depressing, matrix the other day:

Institutional Preference Not Highly Educated Highly Educated
Central Planning Hugo Chavez Barack Obama
Decentralized Markets Sarah Palin ?

"If you are an intellectual who believes in decentralized markets," Kling writes, "it's not an appealing choice." I'm (obviously) inclined to agree. He also argues that "what the matrix says is that if you look at today's American politics, you have to either support central planning or support a political party that hates intellectuals." "Hates" is too strong a word for my taste, but certainly the party hasn't, in recent years, evinced any particular interest in developing or electing leaders who are also educated defenders of limited government. True, there are a handful of sharp, policy-oriented figures in the party, but they make up a fairly small cohort, and they don't tend to get much play in the headlines.

And no matter how much party members say they care about fiscal conservatism in the abstract, it's tough to expect much from the GOP when business-as-usual looks like this: The party's first amendment in the Senate's health care debate, put forth by the party's most recent presidential nominee, was an addendum designed to stop $500 billion in Medicare cuts.