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Fiscally conservative Democrats?

Have you noticed that more and more Democrats are referring to themselves as "fiscal conservatives" these days? What do they mean when they say this? I suspect it's nostalgia for the "glory days" of the 90's, when Bill Clinton presided over a nominally balanced budget for a few years. Granted, this was accomplished with an oppositional Congress to help control spending, and an economic tailwind to spur revenues, but it nevertheless makes for a convenient talking point when decrying the exploding Bush deficits.

To me, fiscal conservatism means keeping taxes and spending as low as possible, in recognition of the fact that government revenue is ultimately the taxpayers' money, and should be handled frugally and responsibly. Bush has performed abysmally on the spending side of this equation, and thus left the Republicans vulnerable on this issue.

But what does fiscal conservatism really mean for Democrats? As near as I can make it, it means tax the wealthy as much as you have to so that we can balance the budget no matter how much we spend (although I remain skeptical of their ability to deliver a balanced budget even under this formulation.)

There are encouraging signs, however, that Bush may finally be getting serious about spending. These "fiscally conservative" Democrats, of course, will be the first to scream bloody murder at the thought actual spending cuts. Expect a long, hard battle over this one, complete with all the melodramatic grandstanding we've come to expect from the Left when someone threatens their piggy bank. Whether Bush wins this battle or not, I predict it heralds an end to the age of "fiscally conservative" Democrats. When they get a look at genuine fiscal conservatism, I doubt they'll like it much.


I've always thought that fiscal conservatism meant pretty much the same thing on the government level as it meant on the personal level: living within one'e means, i.e. not spending more than you can afford. On a personal level, I suppose someone who never bought anything on a credit card, and who always made sure there was a big reserve of cash on hand for emergencies would be considered a fiscal conservative.

So I always thought that politicians who were tagged a "fiscal conservative" always aimed for balanced-budgets, or at a minimum for decreasing budget deficits. Certainly spending in part of this equation, but so is revenue. Our current President would certainly not qualify under this definition. Pres. Clinton would have come a lot closer. I think sometimes people have a problem dissociating the word "conservative" from its more common political understood meaning.

But terms like these have a habit of evolving and changing as much as words like "liberal" and "conservative" have.

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