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February 06th 2012 print

Peter Smith

Can Gina do it?

To shift the political centre of gravity to make extremists out of conservatives is a great victory for the Left. It will be difficult to restore anything close to balance.

An extremist is defined as someone who holds extreme political or religious views. Today that seems to include people who believe that we can’t collectively spend more than we collectively earn.

Mitt Romney is the front runner in the race to choose a Republican candidate to run for president. Newt Gingrich who is running second calls Romney a Massachusetts’ moderate. The race between the two is bitter and personal. But when you look at their policies there is not much space between them.

On the domestic front, they both want to simplify the tax code to rid it of deductions serving special interests. They both want to lower tax rates. They both want to rescind Obamacare and reform entitlements for future generations. (It would be political poison to touch current or near-term entitlements, however bloated they are.) They both want a much smaller federal government, to pay down the debt and to ensure budgets must be balanced as a general rule. They both want to reduce government regulations and obstacles to drilling and mining for oil and gas.

It is likely that one of them, most probably Romney, will face Obama in November. Though you can’t necessarily rule out the social conservative Rick Santorum; you can rule out the libertarian conservative Ron Paul.

It is quite interesting to find out what people here think about the Republican candidates. The most common view I have come across is that they are extremists. A first thing to say about this is that few people actually follow US politics closely so this view is not particularly educated. But presumably from the local media or from their own preconceptions they are predisposed to label Republicans as extremist. Clearly Gingrich does not regard Romney as an extremist; more like a John McCain type.

I am, it is true, predisposed to favour Republicans over Democrats. This might bias my thinking. But trying to take that into account, it is difficult to see what is extreme about the policies of Romney or Gingrich. US federal government debt now exceeds $15 trillion, with another $1.1 trillion deficit estimated for the 2012 fiscal year against total federal outlays of $3.7 trillion. Spending on health, welfare, and pensions is fast growing and estimated to take up 57 per cent of outlays and over 80 per cent of revenue. What is extreme in these circumstances about advocating policies to tackle this mess?

It seems to me that extremist has now taken on a whole new meaning. It is now routinely applied to those who refuse to live in a pie-in-the-sky world. You can now qualify as a moderate or reasonable person only if you stubbornly refuse to face facts and, moreover, conduct yourself in a morally indignant way. For example, proposals from Republicans for modest reforms to future welfare entitlements can be met with political advertisements from the Democratic machine of a wheel-chaired granny being thrown off a cliff. Apparently the former are extreme proposals, the latter a reasonable and moral reaction.

Apparently wanting an oil pipeline (Keystone) to be built from Canada to the Gulf coast of Texas is extreme. On the other hand, preventing it being built after the usual drawn out process of interminable inquiries while, at the same time, throwing away billions of taxpayers’ dollars in failed and sure to fail green energy companies is reasonable. Someone has succeeded in turning the world upside down. Having no effective policies to tackle a trillion dollar deficit is reasonable; promoting policies to balance the budget is extremist.

How do Democrats and those on the left generally shore up their position in the face of overwhelming fiscal facts of life? Easy! The rich must pay their fair share. Always and everywhere the answer is to extract more revenue from the rich. Enough will never be enough. With 47 million Americans on food stamps, another record helped along by Obama’s moderate policies of fiscal recklessness, crony capitalism, and regulation, you might think it would be best to cut government expenditure and allow the rich to keep their wealth and do what they, and only they do in any quantity, which is to save and thereby underpin new investment and create jobs. No, while that would make economic sense, it would most definitely fall under an extremist banner.

What do we do when sensible people think sensible polices are extreme? I don’t want to be fatalistic but I doubt much can be done. By monopolising the media and educational intuitions the Left has not just nudged the political centre of gravity to the left but has given it a resounding shove. The evidence is clear. The big entitlement spending Howard government is often called conservative as is the middle-of-the-road Murdoch press in Australia. A truly conservative party would not now get to first base in Australia. And, in the US, the “Massachusetts’ moderate” is likely to get the nod simply because he is more electable than the more openly conservative Gingrich or Santorum.

To shift the political centre of gravity to make extremists out of conservatives is a great victory for the Left. It will be difficult to restore anything close to balance. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan tried and failed. The examples of Fox News and conservative talkback radio offer some faint hope in countering the bias of the mainstream media. Maybe Gina Rinehart will bring Fairfax closer to the centre. As for educational institutions nothing can be done. I can only imagine they perpetuate themselves through their hiring policies in some unbecoming incestuous fashion. Think of the movie Deliverance.


Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics