The Dark Knight of Conservatism

The office of Senator Tom Coburn (R-Ok.) released a report of outrageous pork and wasteful programs. The government spent $15,000 to provide voicemail to the homeless in Ohio and $6,000 for a Mermaid Mural in Racine.

The report is ironic, as if it was from another time that seems long ago, when the petty nickel and dime conniving politicians mattered, or when Tom Coburn was a paragon of fiscal conservatism.

I try not to be harsh, and I can’t advocate throwing Coburn under the bus, but I find myself unable to view him in the same light as I once did. My reason: one vote: for a $700 billion bailout of the financial sector.
I can eventually forgive that vote, or will try. But Coburn’s complaining about the penny anny stuff in Washington strikes me as hypocritical. The $700 billion bailout money could provide homeless people in Ohio voice mail for 46.7 million years, or could be used to paint more than 116 million murals.

This past year has been a difficult one for conservatives. I never imagined it would end with me angry at Tom Coburn. The top movie of 2008 was the Batman sequel, “The Dark Night,” and it’s a movie this situation relates to.

For those who didn’t see the movie, this may come as somewhat of a spoiler. For those who did, the statement will be controversial. In the Dark Knight, the Joker won. The Joker’s goal, if you could call it that, wasn’t the theft of money, or the killing of hundreds, it was simply the creation of moral anarchy. By the end of the movie, the Joker’s efforts had paid off. Each of the three “good guys,” Commissioner Gordon, Batman, and District Attorney Harvey Dent, had clearly become compromised by the end of the film.

Likewise, moral confusion seems to be the order of the day in the auto bailout. This confusion is best summed up by George W. Bush’s statement, “I abandoned free market principles to save the free market system.” Yes, that is a direct quote.

The taint is everywhere in Congress. Congressman John Campbell (R-Ca.), who like Coburn is a well-known anti-pork crusader, voted yes on the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), aka the $700 billion bailout, and present on the auto bailout. Congressman stalwart John Shadegg (R-AZ), and conservative Tom Tancredo (R-Co.) also supported TARP.

Congressman Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mi.) thundered on the floor of the house, arguing that the federal treasury should not be raided, and that the TARP bailout undermined our liberty. Said McCotter, “In the Bolshevik Revolution, the slogan was ‘Peace, land, and bread.’ Today, you are being asked to choose between bread and freedom. I suggest the people on Main Street have said they prefer their freedom, and I am with them.”

McCotter’s reaction to President Bush’s auto bailout, which was likely in violation of the terms of the original TARP legislation? “I sincerely thank [President Bush] for his decisive action in this dire time for our community and the auto industry.” Apparently McCotter has switched to the side of land and bread.

Unlike in the Dark Knight, some heroes have emerged uncompromised in the face of this insanity. Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC.) said “no” to both bailouts, as did Congressman Mike Pence (R-In.) Some people who conservatives rarely counted as heroes, such as Senator Richard Shelby (R-Al.), who was named porker of the month earlier this year by Citizens Against Government Waste, led on the issue of opposing bailouts.

Yet, at the end of the day, the liberal Jokers on Capitol Hill won the day. They’ve created fiscal anarchy on the right. The conservative arguments against government intervention in other areas of life have been smashed to bits by conservatives supporting government intervention. Liberals have been attacking Republicans who supported TARP, but oppose bailing out the auto industry as hypocrites who think banks are worthy of being bailed out, but blue collar workers aren’t. And they’ve got a point.

President Bush and Senator McCain put us in the business of picking winners and losers. The Democrats will argue, “If Citibank and AIG can be winners, why not you? Why are we spending money to bailout these clowns while millions of Americans don’t have health care?” Defining yourself as the party of limited government is great. Defining yourself as the party that will only use big government to help the rich is suicidal.

And how can we hold the new president to following the rule of law when this president has turned a program that was supposed to purchase troubled securities into a program that bought stocks in not only troubled banks, but not so troubled banks, and finally into a program that purchases stock in troubled carmakers (never mind that one of the TARP bill’s chief sponsors has said flat out that Bush has no right to do this.)

Our conservative movement is fractured, fragmented, and undermined through the actions of its leaders. A sledgehammer has been taken to our most sacrosanct economic principles. And you can’t help but feel that somewhere a demented clown is smiling.