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Conservatives have won and they don’t even know it

January 27, 2011

Washington Post columnist Michael J. Gerson criticized President Obama’s State of the Union speech today, arguing that the Democrat is a left-wing ideologue who likes big government at the expense of fiscal sanity.

He didn’t say that exactly, but how could anyone draw a different conclusion after Gerson characterized Obama as an “ideologically unbending” president who envisions “an active role for government in catalyzing the private sector.”

The gist of Gerson’s argument is that Obama is acting irresponsibly because he fails to recognize the potential crisis of the nation’s $13.5 trillion national debt. Rather than tackling the government’s fiscal woes, Gerson wrote, Obama proposed lofty new spending initiatives that sound good to voters today but could ultimately lead America into “a sovereign debt crisis.”

As Gerson put it in his column:

“Without doubt, it is easier to communicate Obama’s agenda than it is to make the Republican case. Obama’s campaign speeches write themselves. Just imagine: ‘If we can send a man to the moon, why can’t we bring Twitter within reach of every disadvantaged child? If the Wright brothers could touch the sky, why can’t we have more iPads per capita than the South Koreans? The naysayers will say ‘nay.’ But this is America. . . .’ Any focus group facilitator will tell you that the dials go up with words such as ‘investment’ and ‘competitiveness’ … and down with words such as ‘debt,’ ‘crisis’ and ‘bankruptcy.'”

There are at least two problems with this column.

First, Gerson and other conservatives have no credibility when talking about deficits, and they fail to acknowledge their own culpability in America’s financial crisis.

Republican presidents have contributed significantly to the national debt. During the 12 years that presidents Reagan and Bush I were in office, the debt rose from roughly $1 trillion to more than $5 trillion.

The debt rose more slowly during the Clinton years, but it more than doubled under the Bush II White House. By the time Obama took office, Americans owed an estimated $12 trillion. For Republicans to argue today that they are the party of fiscal responsibility is to spit in the face of history. (See Maddow and zFacts.)

A second problem with Gerson’s column is that it overstates its case. Gerson, a former speech writer for President George W. Bush, makes his argument as though conservative Republicans were facing a serious challenge from the Left — as if Obama represented a form of American socialism.

Nothing could be further from the truth. As I said in a previous post, Obama’s speech is an indication that liberalism is dead in America. Republican-initiated tax cuts and ballooning military spending have bankrupted the federal government, making it impossible for liberals to make, if they were so inclined, a credible argument for dramatic increases in government spending.

When Obama talks about investments in education or high-speed rail, he is tinkering around the edges. This is no New Deal — no Great Society. The beast has been sufficiently starved, and liberals know it.

What Gerson and other conservatives complain about today, they would no doubt have embraced three or four decades ago. Back then, Obama would have been seen as a moderate conservative — that’s how far the ideological pendulum has swung to the right.

Gerson and his friends have won the debate and they don’t even know it. They should stop complaining and rejoice!

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