Exchequer

A Few Words In Praise of Fear

Today is definitely a love day in my love-hate relationship with the Republicans. A 2,000-page pork-bomb replaced with a one-page continuing resolution? That is some nice work, Senator McConnell.

Other words that do not trip easily from my keyboard: John McCain really pulled it through.

Something has got into the Republican leadership, and that something is: fear. Wonderful, salubrious fear. For this we can thank the Tea Party movement, for several reasons. The first is that, while our European cousins are out rioting in the street for more and more government spending, the one significant, genuinely popular movement afoot in American politics is demanding the opposite. No Washington poobah wants to get yelled at by rowdy constituents at a town-hall meeting back in the district. They really hate that.

Funny what catches the notice of politicians. I was a newspaper editor for years, and I’ve had at least a dozen politicians tell me: “We don’t really give a damn what you write about us in the editorials. We don’t even really read them. But if we start seeing letters to the editor, we notice. Any time one constituent is ticked-off enough to take the time to write a letter, that’s significant. One guy writing a letter means that there are 500 more who agree but don’t take the time to write.” One guy writing a letter represents a few hundred people in the mind of Joe Congressman. Those Tea Party rallies, too, loom a lot larger than the raw numbers would suggest, impressive as those raw numbers have been. Joe Congressman does not want to see that crowd camped out on his doorstep.

The second reason used to dabble in witchcraft. Say what you like about Christine O’Donnell and her incompetent nut-cluster of a campaign, she showed the Republican establishment that the Tea Party, and the fiscally discontent at large, are willing to run a kamikaze candidate against any RINO target of opportunity. And not all of the challengers are going to be O’Donnell-type buffoons. Sharron Angle was a much more serious candidate and ran a much more serious campaign. Pat Toomey chased Arlen Specter out of the Republican party and then put the smackdown on his Democratic opponent — a retired admiral, let’s remember, not some wild-eyed hippie — in the general. Pat Toomey scares the old guard. They do not want to see a dozen Pat Toomeys showing up in Republican primaries next time around. Kay Bailey Hutchison does not want some Stetson-wearing Toomey showing up in her backyard.

The third fear factor is: reality. In Washington and in statehouses around the country, the reality of the pending Fiscal Armageddon is starting to seep into the thick skulls of the elected class. Jerry Brown pronounced himself “shocked” once he got a good peek at California’s balance sheet. Off the record, politicians of both parties are starting to concede that a lot of the old ideological disputes at now moot, because there simply isn’t any money. It’s not a question of whether there are going to be deep cuts and fundamental restructuring, but when and how much.

I do not agree with the David Frums of the world that religious and social conservatives are a net loss for the Right, and I honestly do not much care whether we have a Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy or something else. (My own preference is for letting the brass of the various services decide for themselves; the military gets lots of consideration for logistical concerns, in my view.) But here’s what I did notice about that fight: The fact that the Republicans have made spending their line in the sand, and not some relatively inconsequential but symbolically important question about gay soldiers, seems like good news to me. And the Democrats folded, as did the Republican appropriators — they didn’t really try to defend the spending, because the spending is indefensible.

Stopping the omnibus was huge — and if you haven’t read our very fine you-are-there coverage from Costa and Stiles, do read it now. This is a good day for conservatives. We can move  back the hands on the Fiscal Doomsday Clock a full 60 seconds.

– Kevin D. Williamson is deputy managing editor of National Review and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, now available at Amazon.com. You can buy an autographed copy through National Review Online here.

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