Memo to Republicans: Austerity is a political loser
It’s always dangerous to compare political trends abroad to those at home.
America is, of course, different.
Still, political observers can’t keep themselves from speculating on how Sunday’s European elections — and the rejection of economic austerity — will translate to the coming U.S. presidential election.
“Mitt Romney and the GOP subscribe to the pro-austerity view,” writes the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson. “They are, of course, entitled to their opinion, even if it happens to be wrong. I sincerely wish them all the electoral success their ideological allies are having across the Atlantic.”
If austerity means taking entitlement reform seriously — and responsibly dealing with economic challenges (as opposed to refusing to lay out a budget, as senate Democrats have done) — then Republicans should plead guilty. Of course, Robinson’s goal is to imply modern Republicans are for completely “dismantling” the social safety net — an absurd notion. Even Paul Ryan’s plan — which has been derided as extreme — requires two decades to balance the budget.
To be sure, liberals are engaged in political posturing (for one thing, European austerity has included tax hikes — something obviously at odds with Republican proposals). Still, this may serve as a helpful warning to the GOP that — while responsible governance is crucial — austerity, in and of itself, is not a political winner. In fact, its abandonment helped propel Ronald Reagan to the presidency — arguably, the most important conservative electoral victory in modern American history.
Reagan, of course, ran and lost as a traditional balanced budget Republican in 1976. But by 1980, he was advocating the more optimistic supply-side economics of Jack Kemp. There is a lesson to be learned here. Even as Republicans rightly suggest trimming the fat and getting our economic house in order, they would be wise to eschew the implication that their vision for the future involves wearing cardigans and turning down the thermostat. A defeatist attitude offends the American spirit. Conservatives, of all people, ought to appreciate this.
Optimism sells — even to fiscal conservatives.
There’s a reason they call it the Club for Growth and not the Club for Cuts.