Pretty indicative of the current state of the Republican Party:
It's not just the goose egg that the House Republicans laid on the
Democratic stimulus package yesterday: Boehner's Boys have been equally
uncooperative on other matters. Case in point: a bill yesterday to delay the transition to digital TV. This measure was approved unanimously by the Senate; every Senate Republican gave it the green light. But 155 out of 178 House Republicans voted against it, which resulted in the measure's
defeat since a two-thirds majority would have been required for passage
under the House's suspension of the rules.
Or, take the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a seemingly fairly popular/populist (if not inscrutable) piece of legislation on gender-based pay discrepancies. This was something that Barack Obama whacked John McCain on on the campaign trail, with McCain offering little rebuttal. In the Senate, five Republicans -- out of 41 -- voted with the Administration on Ledbetter, including all four Republican women. In the House, just three Republicans did -- out of 178.
As regular readers know, I have rather profound policy disagreements with most Republicans. That said, I don’t think that most of them subjectively see their policies as attempts to enrich the top income brackets. Most of them presumably see their actions in ideological terms – e.g., they are promoting liberty; they are promoting small government; they are protecting the real creators of wealth in the American economy.
For Republicans who view themselves through "small government" narratives, the cognitive dissonance of the Gingrich/Bush era probably became unbearable. After all, it's pretty hard to square Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay and Ted Stevens with the ideological self-image most Republicans have.
That’s why pork is such a cause célèbre among conservatives lately – it serves the psychological need of easing this dissonance. We’ll basically ignore large spending increases and rank corruption – but we’ll make ourselves feel better by raising a big cathartic stink over 0.000000001% of the budget.
And that’s exactly what’s going on with the stimulus. I frankly don’t really know what being a conservative means anymore. And a lot of conservatives share this confusion these days. But there’s at least some widespread consensus in the idea of limited government and lower taxes.