Jeff Jacoby, the Boston Globe’s resident conservative, doesn’t usually get it. Most of his columns - reality-based disconnects of Heritage Foundation fantasies and talking-point drafts for the Limbaugh crowd - leave the thoughtful reader either slackjawed or in stitches. But on Wednesday he actually got it, and perhaps the only thing that rendered readers slackjawed this time around was how “it” could take so damn long to occur.
Mr. Jacoby, it seems, just discovered that present-day, self-ballyhooed conservatives - specifically, those in Congress and the White House - aren’t … well, conservative. In what must have been a etymological epiphany, it came to Jacoby that “conservative” comes from “conserve,” as in to fiscally conserve, and his lads in power aren’t doing anything of the sort.
I don’t know if it was his keen, investigative skills or the endless stream of kids-in-the-candy-store headlines for five years that tipped him off, but whichever it was, he’s hot on the story. And just plain hot. He feels betrayed.
Jacoby noted that in the conservative beginning - the mid-1960s, when Moses B. Goldwater was carving political Truth in stone to fight Pharaoh L. Johnson’s fiscal plague - the “GOP complain[ed] about creeping socialism and reckless federal spending.” LBJ and his minions in Congress dominated the electoral landscape and were spending like prodigal SOBs. It was a fiscal nightmare from which conservatives were to wake us up.
But, pined Jacoby, “one political party is still running the show in Washington and still spending as mindlessly as ever…. The incumbent in the White House, a Texan named Bush, burns through money even more extravagantly than the Texan named Johnson…. The conservatives are aghast…. Bush, who has never vetoed a single bill, shows no interest in fiscal self-control. And neither does the leadership in Congress, a crew of wastrels next to whom the LBJ Democrats of 40 years ago were penny-pinching skinflints.”
Then came Jacoby’s incredibly arrested epiphany: “Suddenly, with a start, you realize something astonishing: Bush is actually a Republican. The House and Senate are controlled by Republicans. They walk and talk and spend like old-time Democrats, but in fact they belong to the GOP. Somewhere along the way, the heirs of Goldwater and Reagan became clones of Johnson and Hubert Humphrey. The party of fiscal sobriety turned into a gang of reckless big spenders.”
Put aside Jacoby’s laughable inclusion of St. Ronald among the fiscally responsible, as well as his omission of the Gipper as the presidential prototype of today’s fiscally irresponsible nitwits. That’s just part of the fundamentalist conservative catechism, and we should be condescendingly gracious in allowing conservatives a few comforting political fables. What’s important is that he got the contemporary big picture right and he done writ it large, which is more than one can say for most other conservative columnists.
This angle - the fiscally irresponsible, utterly non-conservative-GOP angle - is one Democrats should be embracing passionately throughout the midterm and presidential elections. Sure, other activities, like reaming Tom DeLay, are fun. It’s always satisfying to rip a new one for corrupt, pompous thugs. And when they tire of hammering The Hammer, Democrats will always have Jack Abramoff, Bill Frist, David Safavian, Karl Rove, “Scooter” Libby and Lord yet knows how many other satanic insiders to kick around. But all such good things and fun times come to an end, sadly, and these stories likely will be mere political footnotes by late 2006 and 2008.
As political backup it’s also wise to establish some actual principles - now there’s a thought - and a leading one, foolishly handed to Democrats, is what Republicans cynically claimed as their exclusive own for decades: fiscal responsibility. The GOP reaped widespread electoral support from what they long ago turned their backs on. So the electorate remains in waiting for someone, some party, to be the responsible adult. It’s a deep well of support that’s waiting to be tapped.