The liberal agenda of fiscal conservatism is misunderstood.
Your average person seems to think that, when push comes to shove, matters of business and economy are best handled by Republicans. Even liberal friends of mine sometimes refer to so-called fiscal conservatism as being a trait of the Right. This is a lie. The Right is not more fiscally conservative than the Left. The Republicans also love to talk about cutting taxes. It is a tried and true Republican campaign tactic to say they will cut taxes and their liberal opponent will raise taxes. This is also a lie, although slightly more complex. When people describe themselves as “socially liberal but fiscally conservative”, they are basically saying they are liberals.
Here’s how this fits together.
When we say “fiscally conservative” what do we mean? To most people, it means to manage money carefully, frugally and without a great deal of risk. To play it safe. To focus on necessities and not luxuries. What is the goal of fiscal conservatism? To maximize dollar value. The goal is to make our hard-earned tax dollars go as far as they can.
That is one aspect. But the ideals of the Republican Party don’t stop there. The math is unforgiving: if you take in less tax dollars you can do less. Since you cannot increase efficiency infinitely, a program to reduce taxes is ultimately a program for government to do less. This fits in well with the Republican rhetoric of “smaller government”. So the Republicans aren’t really for fiscal conservatism, they are for a shrinking federal government. Well, what’s wrong with that? Republicans want to grow the military. Big time. They are funding billions and billions into the military. So if we shrink the government but grow the military, it means the military is becoming proportionally an ever more dominant fraction of the federal government. In addition, the real heart of the Republican ideal is keeping the government’s hands off their money. So what they want is the government to be built with someone else’s money to fund a military to protect their wealth. We are becoming a military state controlled by the richest few percent of the population. Shouldn’t that bother us a bit?
There is one thing that everyone can relate to: No one wants to have less money. The goal in this matter, if you will, is to have more money. Yet we know how important government is. It takes a lot of money to have great highways, control our borders, manage our parks, make sure workplaces are safe, make sure food is safe, police the neighborhood, sweeps the streets, protect our country in wartime, interact diplomatically with other countries, provide for social security. This list goes on. This is expensive stuff. This is important stuff. The government does a lot of very, very useful things for all people. Our government does a remarkable job at most of this stuff. Every time it comes down to cutting these programs, Republicans and Democrats alike have a terrible struggle. Republicans love to spend the government’s money, too, and their pet project, the military, spends more money then the next 7 largest militaries in the world. Republicans could accurately be described as “tax-cut and spend”. Why did Ronald Reagan, in a booming economy deficit spend and raise the debt, while President Clinton, in a booming economy, ran a surplus budget and paid down the debt. Ronald Reagan cut taxes and the financial situation of the country got worse. That is not fiscal conservatism. Republicans know they can’t cut taxes and grow the military unless they cut somewhere else. This is where they really screw up. They attempt to take away the very programs that make us a good country and would make us a great country. For example, we need a national solution to health care insurance. No one should ever be turned away from a hospital. In light of the fact that insurance companies are cash cows for their owners, no one should go bankrupt because they suffer from a serious illness. In American we take care of our own. We don’t leave anybody behind. In America, if someone needs a bite to eat, a bed to sleep in or an operation to save their life, we take care of them. We take care of our parks, our roads, our neighborhoods, our workers, our food and our people . There is no person in American who would rather be on welfare than be successful. There is no one at a soup kitchen who wouldn’t rather be in a nice restaurant or in their own kitchen. When people ask for help, we give them help. If you do not, what happens? You have homeless, hungry, dying people, which ends up costing immeasurably more.
True fiscal conservatism does not come with this baggage of needing to shrink government, grow the military and cut social programs. Fiscal conservatism means we should spend money wisely. This means you can’t be penny wise and pound foolish. It is cheaper to have good education programs that prevent crime than to build prisons and incarcerate a huge segment of our population. It is cheaper to protect the environment before it is destroyed than to try to rebuild it once it is destroyed. It is cheaper to develop alternative energy now while we still have fossil fuels, than be scavenging for the last drop when it’s gone at the end of this century. (Please read that sentence again: fossil fuels will be GONE by the end of this century!) America is going to be like a junkie kicking heroin when the oil fields start drying up and the so-called fiscally conservative Republicans are still dragging their feet on alternative energy. It should be a number one priority and instead they want to risk one of the last pristine environments in the world for one more fix of domestic oil.
Issue after issue after issue — the Republican ideals are risky, short-sighted, greedy, expensive and in no way, shape or form fiscally conservative. Here, in a short list, is the essence of fiscal conservatism:
1. Education is the best crime prevention we know of and it is infinitely cheaper than fighting our high crime rate. Fund the crap out of education.
2. Taking care of the environment is going to get exponentially more expensive every decade. Do not pass that nightmare on to your grandchildren. Protect the environment now in a way that will keep it healthy for millenia.
3. Support programs that keep the poorest Americans fed, healthy and with some degree of self-esteem. This is also cheaper than fighting crime and is also the American way.
4. Don’t claim you are patriotic if you don’t support our government financially. A high-quality government costs money. The richest Americans should gladly pay more. They did not get wealthy in a vacuum. They are lucky as hell and they have a civic duty to give back.
5. Insist that our government run a surplus budget. Clinton did, so can Bush. It is immoral to spend the money of future governments today.
6. Do not allow our leaders to turn us into a military state. We do not need a military 100 times bigger than our fellow countries. This is fear and greed in action, it depletes resources that would be better used elsewhere, and supports the ill-conceived notion that might is right. We must solve our problems non-violently when at all possible for many reasons, but one good reason is that it is fiscally conservative.
Conservative vs. Republican
OK, so I just slammed the hell out of Republicans. Please note: I am not slamming Conservatives. I don’t think Republicans and Conservatives are the same thing. Conservatives are generally people who are fiscally conservative. Some of them are also socially conservative. There is a healthy tension between liberals and conservatives on these issues. That’s a good thing. What many good Conservatives don’t see is how the Republican Party is tricking and betraying them. I’ve listed many examples above. The Republican Party is systematically undermining public education, social security, the environment, the health care system and many other things because it is a tactic to achieve an ideological agenda. To be more blunt, they lie because they know if they tell the truth, we won’t buy it. Even good Conservatives would balk at a systematic attack on the health and welfare of the country as a whole. Republicans are deluded into thinking that a liberal agenda is somehow akin to Communism. I won’t shy from that charge: our country is a mix of capitalist and communist tactics. Our military is a communist organization. Our highways are a communist system. Get it out of your head that social cooperation is bad. We all agree: markets should be capitalist. Many, many things work best under capitalism. Not all things. Let’s focus on getting the best for ourselves and our countrymen by spending money wisely so we can continue to be the best country in the world. You are a liberal.