Ross Douthat in the NYT today is worth a read for a good discussion of US conservatives’ motivations in taking the US to the brink on debt. He starts by quoting David Frum on what small government conservatives thought of the 1980s:
However heady the 1980s may have looked to everyone else, they were for conservatives a testing and disillusioning time. Conservatives owned the executive branch for eight years and had great influence over it for four more; they dominated the Senate for six years; and by the end of the decade they exercised near complete control over the federal judiciary. And yet, every time they reached to undo the work of Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon — the work they had damned for nearly half a century — they felt the public’s wary eyes upon them. They didn’t dare, and they realized that they didn’t dare. Their moment came and flickered. And as the power of the conservative movement slowly ebbed after 1986, and then roared away in 1992, the conservatives who had lived through that attack of faintheartedness shamefacedly felt that they had better hurry up and find something else to talk about …
The point here, Douthat continues, is that
the deep, abiding gulf between the widespread conservative idea of what a true Conservative Moment would look like and the mainstream idea of the same … To liberals and many moderates, it often seems like the right gets what it wants in these arguments and then just gets more extreme, demanding cuts atop cuts, concessions atop concessions, deregulation upon deregulation, tax cuts upon tax cuts. But to many conservatives, the right has never come remotely close to getting what it actually wants, whether in the Reagan era or the Gingrich years or now the age of the Tea Party — because what it wants is an actually smaller government, as opposed to one that just grows somewhat more slowly than liberals and the left would like.
if this attitude sounds more like a foolish romanticism than a prudent, responsible, grounded-in-reality conservatism — well, yes, unfortunately I think it pretty clearly is.
(And check out Martin Wolf in Monday’s FT for a good summary of just how foolish…)