JONATHAN CHAIT OCTOBER 12, 2010
The perpetual impediment to the conservative policy agenda is that, while voters may oppose government in the abstract, they favor it in the particulars. The history of conservative politics over the last thirty years is largely the history of denying or attempting unsuccessfully to work around this fundamental problem. The usual answer is to put off the spending cuts until later, and then later becomes never.
Here's a good window into the mentality of Ron Johnson, a businessman and hard-core conservative currently leading for the Senate race in Wisconsin:
Guided by GOP insider Curt Anderson, Johnson has poured millions of dollars into what often seems like a rather cautious campaign. In the interview, it was clear the professional handlers have gotten to Johnson. He is very reluctant to engage in specifics on Social Security and Medicare, even though his admiration of and ideological connection to fellow Wisconsinite Rep. Paul Ryan make plain what direction he would head in if elected.
He feels stung by a story in the Journal Sentinel in which he questioned the science behind global warming and said "sun spots" are just as much to blame. It lacked context, he says, though he considers himself a strong global warming skeptic. So, he watches his words, ignoring the fact that he's already making the tradeoffs conventional politicians make to win office. It will be different once and if he wins, he promises. Then, his true feelings can take voice.
Right, once you get elected, then you can start cutting Medicare and Social Security. Except Johnson doesn't realize that politics won't go away. So you might want to propose your big cuts, but then the Democrats will attack you, and the public will get angry, so you have to be coy. And then, pretty soon, you have to get reelected. And if you can't run for election promising actual spending cuts in 2010, you can't do it ever. So ultimately you just pass a bunch of deficit-financed tax cuts.
Republicans can't slash government. The only thing they can do is defer its costs onto future generations. So that's what they end up doing.