Can we stop pretending that Rick Santorum is a fiscal conservative?

Back in 2008, Jonah Goldberg explained that Mike Huckabee’s brand of conservatism was inconsistent with traditional conservatism, in that the former Arkansas Governor believes that government exists, not to protect individual liberty, but to make people live moral lives in accordance with his personal beliefs:

When it comes to economic issues, [Mike Huckabee] is hard to distinguish from all  sort of different brands of liberals. He is hostile to free trade. He is very friendly to raising taxes. He believes in regulation wherever  necessary. He thinks abortion must remain a federal national issue, can’t send it back to the states. And that’s what I mean by “right-wing  progressive.” He wants to use government towards conservative ends. He says it’s a biblical duty to fight global warming. The problem with  someone like Huckabee is that he much like, in my mind, a liberal sees no dogmatic constitutional limits on the “do-goodery” of the federal  government. Whatever he thinks is the right thing for the federal government to do, if he thinks there’s a good thing that can be done by the federal government, he wants the federal government to do it whether  it’s constitutional or in accordance with principles of limited  government. And maybe what he wants to isn’t what a cultural liberal would want to do but he still wants to use the government the same way.  It’s big government conservatism. And that, I think, is the real threat  these days to conservatism.

While Rick Santorum doesn’t have the record of supporting tax hikes that Tax Hike Mike had or some of the other points listed above — though some of the do apply, he certainly has a record of backing certain social policies based upon the notion that government exists to ensure a certain behavior from its citizens or fiscal policies based on the odd notion that he believes in “some government”; a dig at the growing libertarian influence in the conservative movement.

On the fiscal and regulatory side of the equation, Santorum doesn’t even come close to having a record worthy of Tea Party support (unfortunately, they are picking him over other candidates in the race. He may not have supported tax hikes like Huckabee, but the spending he voted — including budget deficits and expanding Medicare by $9 trillion — will no doubt lead to tax hikes down the road. Philip Klein explained yesterday that many of the votes and positions Santorum’s yesterday doesn’t come close to sharing the views of Tea Party-minded voters:

Rick Santorum has surged back into contention for the Republican presidential nomination because of persistent reservations among conservatives about Mitt Romney. But those on the right who embrace Santorum as an alternative should do so with no illusions. To his credit, Santorum did not support the kind of mandate and subsidize approach to health care as Romney, but as Senator, he still voted like a big government Republican on many occasions.  Some of this had to do with being a loyal soldier during the Bush era, when he backed the Medicare prescription drug plan and No Child Left Behind. But a lot of it had to do with his parochialism.

As a Senator from Pennsylvania, Santorum took earmarks, pushed a support program for dairy farmers, sided with unions and backed steel tariffs. In these instances, when free market principles clashed with local concerns, he abandoned limited government conservatives.

A year ago, I asked Santorum about his support for dairy subsidies.

“(T)he milk program, compared to Social Security and all the entitlement programs was a small program about an industry that was struggling in America — the small farmer in that part of the country,” he told me. “My feeling is, sure, we can have a milk program that has a concentration of milk into big super duper farms in the South and in the West, and we will continue to see the deterioration of rural Pennsylvania, rural New York, and other rural areas. And if people are fine with that, that’s fine. I think there’s something to be said for having viable businesses in that part of the country to compete.”

Whatever can be said about such a position, it is not the free market position.

And during the January 7th New Hampshire ABC/Yahoo debate, when Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex., has challenged Santorum for being a big spender who sided with against “right to work” laws, he once again cited local concerns.

“Ron, I’m a conservative,” Santorum shot back. “I’m not a libertarian. I believe in some government. I do believe that government has — that as a senator from Pennsylvania that I had a responsibility to go out there and represent the interests of my state. And that’s what I did to make sure that Pennsylvania was able, in formulas and other things, to get its fair share of money back.”

He also defended his vote against “right to work” again in CNN’s Jan. 19 South Carolina debate.

“I’ve already signed a pledge and said I would sign a national right to work bill,” he said. “And when I was a senator from Pennsylvania, which is a state that is not a right to work state, the state made a decision not to be right to work.  And I wasn’t going to go to Washington and overturn that from the federal government and do that to the state.”

Over at Aces of Spades, Gabriel Malor chided Tea Party-minded voters for backing Santorum given what we know about his fiscal record:

Santorum has surged among Republican voters who as recently as 2010 claimed to oppose earmarks, big government, and over-regulation. Once upon a time they also wanted to reform entitlement and welfare programs and to curtail government meddling in the free market. Yes, I’m talking about the Tea Party, and, yes, this gets right back to my point that inconsistent voters will behave inconsistently (and therefore get no respect).

Rick Santorum passionately defends earmarks, even today. There has been no come-to-Jesus moment for the unrepentant former Senator and Congressman, who during his 16 years inside the Beltway racked up a $1 billion in earmarks. During that time, Santorum sided with Democrats to block cuts to federally-funded food stamps programs and to raise the minimum wage. He sought (and got) money for “green” projects in Pennsylvania and, among numerous other wasteful votes, voted for the Bridge to Nowhere.

Tea Partiers, you have some ‘splainin’ to do. I know, I know. You don’t like Romney because you only think he’s saying what you want to hear. Now, I don’t believe that, but explain to me how Romney preaching fiscal conservatism is worse than Santorum, who isn’t even pretending to support it.

Here he is in a 2006 campaign video (you know, the year he lost badly) saying the Bush 43 White House probably called him a lot of names because he fought their efforts to cut Amtrak funding. His mailer that year touted a great many big government achievements, including this notable brag:

 

Just what was the Gas Affordability and Security Act of 2006? Let’s look.

  • Criminalizes conduct that’s already a crime under both state and federal law.
  • Establishes a federal task force within the FTC to help state AGs prosecute oil and gas companies.
  • Authorizes the Secretary of Energy to award funding for an ultra-low sulfur diesel plant.
  • Creates a tax credit for teleworking and encourages federal employees to telework.

Doesn’t sound very conservative to me. The GAS Act had all the hallmarks of the big government excess the Tea Party was trying to get away from in 2009 and 2010: new redundant federal criminal laws, federal commissions, picking winners and losers in the energy market, and, um, teleslacking federal employees.

The only two conclusions I can draw from this is that the anti-Romney faction in the Republican electorate will so blindly follow whoever is deemed to be their “guy” at the moment that they don’t care about his economic statism. The only thing that matters to them is he’s “not Mitt Romney.” That’s both foolish and hypocritical.

The other is that the Tea Party movement has been completely overrun with social conservatives. If that’s the case, Republicans will lose this election, and lose it badly. That’s not to say that social conservatives can’t be fiscal conservatives, rather fiscal issues must come first in this election.

Yes, I know that the contraception issue has somewhat reinvigorated social conservatives. They were understandibly upset about the policy handed down from the Obama Administration. I happened to agree with them, though I’m rarely in their corner.

Santorum’s social conservatism is going to turn away independent voters. For example, his strange rant against contraceptives is going to sound nutty and unserious to many on-the-fence voters in swing states. And national polls show that voters are now supportive of gay marriage, which Santorum vigoriously opposes.

This is the bed that Republicans have made. The idea that Santorum would be any better on fiscal issues than Romney is absurd. They’re both fiscal moderates that aren’t going to change the culture of waste in Washington

 


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