Fiscally Conservative vs. Fiscally Responsible

I have always considered myself to be fiscally conservative but socially progressive. I have never subscribed to the tyranny of conspicuous consumption.  I do not think that more stuff makes one happy.  I do not believe problems are solved by simply throwing money at them.  I do not like debt.  I pay cash for cars and such.

Recently I was challenged by a friend.  She suggested that we have allowed “fiscal responsibility” to be re-branded as “fiscal conservatism.”  I think she has a point.  In today’s political environment, “conservative” does not mean “modest.”  And recent political history does not suggest that conservatives tend to govern in a more fiscally responsible way.

United States deficit or surplus percentage 19...

Image via Wikipedia

I clearly recall the warnings from the right about the dire consequences if Bill Clinton were elected president in 1992.  They predicted that he would greatly increase the budget deficit.  Yet this progressive president managed not only to balance the budget but to leave office with a surplus budget.  This was quickly reversed by the “compassionate conservatism” of George W. Bush.

Clearly the term “fiscal conservatism” has a long history, so it does not fall into the category of terms recently coined by the right to reframe debates to their advantage (as explained by George Lakoff).  But it does continue to serve the purpose of reframing the term “conservative” to make it seem to be equivalent to “responsible.” It is also misleading.

Those who are politically conservative are not more fiscally responsible based on their history. What separates progressives and conservatives is their attitude about taxes. Conservatives seem to always advocate for cutting taxes and reducing our country’s revenue. Progressives appreciate taxes as a legitimate method of funding government.

I think my friend is right; I need to start calling fiscal responsibility by its correct name.

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