Monday, July 25, 2005

Dueling conservatives -- Eibensteiner and Hinderaker challenge Strom and Wigley

Posted by Craig Westover | 5:41 PM |  

A political debate about reality is more than a little oxymoronic, but seizing on a line in the opinion piece critical of Governor Tim Pawlenty by David Strom and Mike Wigley in Sunday‘s Star Tribune, that’s the tack taken for refutation by former Republican Chair Ron Eibensteiner and John Hinderaker of the Powerline blog.
Mike Wigley and David Strom of the Taxpayers League wrote in last Sunday's Op Ed section about the "bubble of unreality that is the governor's office." On the contrary, they need to be reminded of reality. We believe that the narrow view they expressed is not good for conservatives, the Republican Party, or Minnesota.
What is the “narrow view” of Strom and Wiggly? Is it so narrow that it is not good for conservatives, the Rpubl;ican Party, or Minnesota?

Eibensteiner and Hinderacker focus their piece on the good things that have occurred during Pawlenty’s term in office -- a low 3.7 percent unemployment; “minimum government intervention“ in basic industries, which are making good progress; the BioScience Initiative; blocking a 1.4 billion tax increase proposed by Democrats; and cutting the rate of government growth to 7.3 percent per biennium, bringing it in line with population growth and inflation. In doing so, they come to the cheery conclusion that “Minnesota has the best governor within memory,” but with that broad sweep of Pawlenty pluses, they ignore the fundamental premise of the Strom/Wigley piece. They mischaracterize this "fundamental" statement of Strom/Wigley as "narrow" --
Nobody expects a politician to be absolutely rigid and never change his mind, no matter what the circumstances. But how many flip-flops does it take to make you wonder whether the Governor is merely flexible, or is perhaps losing touch with his core principles?

. . . That’s why it is so important that campaign promises mean something. The Governor asked us to vote for him based upon what he said and promised during the campaign. Is it too much to ask that his promises mean something?
Strom and Wigley note for three years Pawlenty has insisted that “Minnesota doesn’t have a tax problem, it has a spending problem.” Yet in a reversal of his position as a state legislator Pawlenty has spent enormous political capital to advance state-run/state partnership casino gambling as a source of additional state revenue. As Rep. Phil Krinkie noted, it’s one thing to change positions when circumstances dictate, but on the casino issue and on the “health impact fee” on cigarettes, Pawlenty made no such explanation. Nor did he offer an explanation of changed circumstances for his support of expanded light rail, use of automobile tax revenue for public transit, or support for publicly financed stadiums.

The issue of commitment to principle is not a fantasy of “unattainable purity” as Eibensteiner and Hinderacker characterize the Strom/Wigley position. It is essential in developing an agenda that moves conservative principles forward, which is good for Minnesota. If “minimum” government intervention is a victory, a cigarette tax an achievement, and subsidized career development for teachers is education reform, then let conservatives call themselves moderate Democrats, because that’s what they are becoming.

In his essay “Why I Am Not a Conservative,” Friedrich Hayek notes that conservatism traditionally lacks any agenda other than to resist progressivism. Consequently, any time conservatism compromises with progressivism the end result is movement to the left. Hayek writes --
[Conservatism] by its very nature cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving. It may succeed by its resistance to current tendencies in slowing down undesirable developments, but, since it does not indicate another direction, it cannot prevent their continuance. It has, for this reason, invariably been the fate of conservatism to be dragged along a path not of it’s own choosing.
Now I disagree that Hayek’s description is a necessity, but it is a pretty fair description of the Pawlenty administration. All of the session compromise moved Minnesota further to the left. The one area where Pawlenty showed signs of a real agenda -- education reform -- he showed little support for and less leadership.

Strom and Wigley put the principled questions very plainly --
Is government too big, or not? Does it tax too much, or not? Is gambling a good way to fund government, or not? Should people be forced out of their cars into government-run transportation, or not? Are baseball and football teams private businesses that don’t need government money, or not? These are not complex questions, and most of us vote at least partly based upon how the candidates answer them.
Eibensteiner and Hinderacker close their paean to Pawlenty with this note --
We have fought in the trenches for a long time for conservative values and Republican candidates. So has the Taxpayers League, which performed a great service for Minnesotans. But it is no service to divide the Republican Party, in search of an unattainable purity, at a time when Minnesota has the best governor within memory, Tim Pawlenty.
But dividing Republicans is not the intent of the Strom Wigley piece. It is not disloyal to remind one‘s party that it is moving away from its principles. Nor will division come to pass unless the reaction to criticism leveled by concerned conservatives is met by placing party loyalty above advancing conservative principles and bettering Minnesota. As Strom and Wigley note --
Pawlenty still has some time to recover, but the first thing he needs to do is recognize he has a problem, and one made a lot worse by the bad decisions he made during this legislative session.
Let me add -- he needs to put forth an agenda that has positive goals (let‘s start with “meaningful school choice“). He must recognize that not giving Democrats as much as they want is not a victory. Victory for conservatives, for Republicans and most importantly for Minnesotans is when the state moves to the right, however slightly. And therein is where Pawlenty failed this session, and failed miserably. That’s the reality that Eibensteiner and Hinderacker miss.