Don’t call them conservatives. I’m talking about the Republican members of Congress who brought this country to the brink of default and financial chaos. Call them Banana Republicans if you like – or Republicans-Gone-Bananas – but don’t call them conservatives. I’m a conservative myself, and I’ll give you four reasons why.
First and foremost, conservatives pay their bills. Raising the debt limit was not about increasing federal spending. It was about meeting obligations already incurred by the federal government. Responsible governments honor their obligations; the Unites States of America is not a banana republic – at least not yet.
Second, conservatives are patriots. There’s nothing patriotic about making Uncle Sam a deadbeat in the eyes of the developed world. In fact it’s dangerous for our economic security, because it may persuade international investors that their money is safer in Europe, or Japan or even in China than it is here.
Third, conservatives have a sense of history. They know how this country got its hard-won reputation for financial integrity. They know how our first treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, insisted that the new American government pay the debts that this country incurred during the Revolutionary War, even though it would have been far easier to repudiate them. Hamilton got his way, and the world took note: Foreign capitalists saw that the young American Republic was a safe place to invest money. And so we have always been regarded – until now.
Fourth, conservatives are not ideologues; they don’t cling blindly to abstract formulas and outmoded doctrines. Tax cuts are not fundamental to conservative principles – they are a means to an end. The tax cuts of the Reagan era were an effective means of limiting government, promoting free enterprise and creating jobs. But times change and circumstances change, and real conservatives are progressives, not reactionaries.
We have an aging population, a generation of students who are not learning as much as their peers in other countries, a decaying infrastructure and the military responsibilities of a global superpower. We can’t balance the budget through spending cuts alone. As Edmund Burke, the father of modern conservatism once said, “Mere parsimony is not economy.” Ultimately, we will have to raise taxes, although hopefully in a way that puts the least damper on economic growth.
The massive spending cuts that the Banana Republicans have secured through their intransigence are not a victory. They may well prove a defeat. No one argues that we need to reduce federal spending, but cutting too much too soon may increase unemployment and depress the economy further. If it does, the voters will know whom to blame.
Hal Gordon, who wrote speeches for the Reagan White House and Gen. Colin Powell, is currently a freelance speechwriter in Houston. Web site: www.ringingwords.com.