Washington fairy tale of 'responsible' moderates

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It's an old yarn, and just like a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, it frequently gets updated to suit the times. In the most recent version, President Obama is the noble hero who came to Washington to rescue the country, only to be thwarted at every turn by sinister Tea Party Republicans.

The Grimms' successors at the New York Times have been recounting this tale in installments all week. On Sunday, the newspaper ran an article about how Republican moderates such as Sen. Orrin Hatch, of Utah, have been becoming more conservative to stave off primary challengers, a development that, "made compromise that much more difficult."

A Monday front-page story reported that Obama desperately wanted to introduce a bold plan to curb the deficit, but "faced with an even more intransigent opposition after Republicans captured the House in the 2010 elections, Mr. Obama made a tactical retreat, suppressing his instincts to 'go big' in favor of a go-slow approach."

But the capper came on Tuesday, when columnist David Brooks complained about the descent from moderate Republicanism to mainstream conservatism and then to Tea Party-style "protester" conservatism.

By Brooks' account, "protesters don't believe in governance. They have zero tolerance for the compromises needed to get legislation passed."

And just to make sure his readers grasped the treachery of these protesters, Brooks ended his column by invoking Martin Niemoeller's famous quote about the passivity of intellectuals as the Nazis gained power in Hitler's Germany. "First they went after the Rockefeller Republicans. ..."

Like most folklore, this narrative bears no relationship to reality. In the real world, Republican members of Congress who scoffed at ideology spent decades cutting corrupt deals, buying votes with pork barrel spending, and expanding government to unsustainable levels while sweeping our nation's long-term problems under the rug.

Traditionally, Republicans would complain about big government while collaborating with Democrats to augment its size and scope. Yet last year, the House of Representatives passed the first serious plan to reform entitlements and balance the long-term budget, with all but four Republicans voting for Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan's proposal.

That historic development would not have been possible were it not for those pesky Tea Party protesters getting principled Republicans elected and demanding action on the debt.

During the debt ceiling debate, Brooks reported that Obama was privately ready to reach a "grand bargain" with Republicans on entitlement reform, only to be thwarted by GOP unwillingness to raise taxes.

But it's hard to take this as sincere given that Obama has never introduced such a plan publicly, even when his party controlled both chambers of Congress.

If there was any doubt about the administration's lack of a plan, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner cleared things up at a recent House Budget Committee hearing, when he told Ryan: "We're not coming before you to say we have a definitive solution to that long-term problem. What we do know is we don't like yours."

Obama's latest budget relies on a series of gimmicks to claim $4 trillion in deficit reduction. But the ironic part is that more than $2 trillion of that comes from the budget deal that ended the debt limit impasse.

If it were up to Obama and "responsible" moderates, the debt ceiling would have been raised without much fanfare, like business as usual. But the Tea Party protesters forced the issue, and that's the only reason Obama has budget savings to tout.

Despite how the fairy tale goes, in reality the backslapping Republican moderates are the ones who helped bring this nation to the brink of financial ruin. And only bold and principled conservative leadership can save us.

Philip Klein is senior editorial writer for The Examiner. He can be reached at

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