7.12.2011

Super Cuts


Living in Philadelphia, I can't tell you how often I have been approached by a Democratic friend or colleague and asked, with varying levels of exasperation, "how can you, with two small kids, possibly be a Republican when you see what the Governor is doing with public education?" To be sure, as a child of immigrants, you'll not find a stauncher advocate of education. And yet, my value for education is tempered in two ways when I consider my political preferences at a local, state, and federal level.

First, politics is more than just a transaction between goodies and support. Don't get me wrong: it is that. We were founded on the notion of opposing "taxation without representation." I think it was FDR who famously responded to a good idea from an advisor with the statement, "sounds good, now find me a constituency to back that." So our resource priority decisions should in fact reflect the will of the populace, as measured by advocacy and votes and persuasion.

But it cannot be just that. Sometimes, we have to support things that we do not personally gain from. Maybe it's because we believe in a higher value. Or maybe it's because we believe in a greater good. Either way, I am not necessarily compelled to support more money for public education simply because I am a direct beneficiary of it.

Which brings me to my second reason: you can't spend what you don't have. I have been sorely disappointed in our local school district and in the surrounding political discourse, because everything has revolved around victimization and finger-pointing and grandstanding, and not around making tough decisions to get lean in what everyone knows is a lean time.

Fundamentally, I am a fiscal conservative because I know how hard it is for individuals to subsume their immediate wants in the interest of good long-term stewardship of resources. We don't save enough for retirement, we over-leverage ourselves, and we take one-time windfalls and turn them into excuses to upgrade our standards of living (i.e. our ongoing expenditure levels). Imagine how much more tempting all of this is to do when we are working with other people's money instead of our own? Hence the real need to compensate, perhaps even over-compensate, by exercising some fiscal discipline in the face of very loud cries to not cut spending.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not an ideologically pure Tea Partier. The battle cry 240 years ago wasn't "no taxation," it was "no taxation without representation." Some taxes are worth keeping and even increasing. Compromise is the sign of commitment to public service, not of political weakness. But there are times when we have to make hard choices to offset the easy choices that preceded them. When that is the case at the local, state, and federal level, and courageous politicians do so in a clear manner, I support that.

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