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Useful Myths And Delusions

Newt Gingrich continues his practice of writing counterfactual history:

When congressional Republicans forgot that their party was the party of taxpayers and government reformers, they lost control in 2006. When they accepted the Bush big-spending plans of 2008, they further lost ground.

This is utterly untrue, and I am doubtful Gingrich even believes these statements. Then again, I’m not sure which would be worse: that Gingrich is claiming something he knows to be untrue because he finds it useful, or that Gingrich actually believes something so far removed from reality. Whenever anyone wants to understand why I criticize the GOP’s recent discovery of fiscal restraint, it is because of this falsehood and the repetition of this falsehood as the central political lesson of the last few years. One cannot separate this embarrassing revisionism about the causes of Republican political woes from the general culture of mendacity that typified the years of unified Republican rule, and this is something that conservatives cannot afford to indulge even when it yields modest improvements in rhetoric and Congressional votes.

P.S. One of the unintended, counterproductive effects of the discovery of fiscal restraint and this accompanying myth about ’06 and ’08 is that advocates for this position will lose a significant part of their badly-needed credibility when this focus on fiscal restraint yields a poor (i.e., fewer pick-ups than 1978) result in 2010. The argument that deficit hawks and fiscal conservatives needed to be making for the last several months and years was that fiscal responsibility, reducing debt and curtailing spending are the necessary things to do even if it leads to electoral setbacks in the near term. Instead, they have been pushing these myths that lack of restraint lost them the majority and more seats in ’08, and have been selling their agenda in no small part on the political benefits to be reaped by pursuing it. When that fails to pay off, as it probably will fail (because the public did not rebel against excessive spending then and is not likely to reward restraint in the future), fiscal conservatives will find themselves in an untenable position of having spent the better part of at least two years deceiving themselves and failing to pay attention to their greatest weaknesses with the electorate. Having made fiscal restraint the centerpiece of their opposition agenda and having identified excessive spending as the reason why the GOP is in its current state, fiscal conservatives will have few political arguments to make when their meliorist rivals use continued Republican electoral weakness against them. Like Toomey’s kamikaze run in Pennsylvania, the fixation on fiscal restraint now is going to do more harm to the limited government cause than it is going to help it.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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