A couple weeks back, Greg Sargent had a great post where he essentially argued that the term “fiscal hawk” does not actually mean what progressives think it means (or want it to mean) — namely, someone who wants to aggressively tackle the deficit. Rather, since the media regularly confers the term on people like Paul Ryan, someone who voted for debt-financed Medicare expansion and tax cuts without offsets, the term “fiscal hawk” actually means “someone who is fully committed to reducing the deficit through tax cuts, entitlement reform and frequent expressions of general hostility towards government.” And I think the upshot of Greg’s post is that progressives need to realize that the media has internalized this definition to such a degree that it might no longer be worth fighting a losing battle with a mere dictionary in hand.
Well, I think we might be reaching that point with “fiscal conservative.” From an article about NJ Gov. Chris Christie’s new budget:
Gov. Chris Christie’s budget will include about $200 million in business tax cuts, with more proposed for the next four years, according to sources familiar with the proposal to be laid out later today…
The tax cuts would fulfill a Christie pledge to make New Jersey more business friendly and help solidify his image as a fiscal conservative. It’s unclear whether the cuts will include income taxes, which he has said would come only after the economy improved.
I thought there was a consensus that “fiscally conservative” meant “fiscally responsible,” not “supports corporate tax cuts.” The accepted definition, by the way, is a huge triumph for the conservative movement, as conservatism has been anything but responsible when it comes to the federal budget. But there are few more annoying tics of cosmopolitan elites than the tendency to reflexively describe their politics as “socially liberal, fiscally conservative.” What they mean by this is, “I’m not like those crazy religious people, but I don’t know anything about fiscal or budget policy and want to show I’m not (Heaven forbid) a knee-jerk liberal, so I’ll attach the word conservative to fiscal and go on my merry way.”
But maybe that is changing. The article quoted above is evidence that at least some in the media are actually using a more accurate definition of the term — as in, being “fiscally conservative” means you support the fiscal policies promoted by conservatives when in power, which, as the article correctly notes, is tax cuts for corporations and wealthy people.
This is actually good news, as a change here will actually add clarity and vastly improve the debate. Unlike the “fiscal hawk” situation (who doesn’t like being a hawk?), what’s left is for progressives not to change the definition of fiscal conservatism but to convince people who aren’t orthodox Republicans that they are not, in fact, fiscally conservative. Much like the generation-long conservative crusade to demagague progressive judicial rulings as dreaded “judicial activism” run amok, it turns out that they were so successful that “judicial activism” lost even the thinnest thread of its original meaning. Even neutral observers began to notice that Scalia and Thomas were striking down plenty of Congressional statutes they disagreed with, which is the actual definition of judicial activism. But just like last year when Ted Olson admitted on Fox News that “judicial activism” really means “a ruling you don’t like” and Chris Wallace chuckled along, maybe progressives should realize that in this case, too, there’s a golden opportunity to come full circle.