The imminent downfall of California Congressman John Doolittle offers yet another opportunity to observe the intriguing failure of most conservative commentators to draw appropriate lessons from the 2006 elections (read all about Doolittle's "stumble into oblivion" here). This particular example comes courtesy of Wall Street Journal writer John Fund, who reflects on "a sad end to a political career that began with such promise." Fund tells the story of a "Reaganite idealist who lost his way" - the author knows Doolittle personally and writes with a tone of genuine regret at the Congressman's fate.
Fiscal conservatives will shed few tears over Mr. Doolittle's likely departure from Congress. Ever since he joined the Appropriations Committee in 2001, he has been preoccupied with shoveling pork back to his district, telling one reporter he had adapted his small-government principles to the system Congress had created to spend money: "You work with what you've got." In conversations with me, he would marvel at how well Democrats and Republicans got along on the Appropriations Committee because "we so often have the same priorities"--namely spending other people's money.Now, earlier in the article, Fund notes that "last year, publicity about his ties to Mr. Abramoff caused his popularity to plummet." Here, however, he's re-framing the scandal as being an example of the loss of the mythical Reaganite fiscal discipline. One can see how the two narratives fit together. And yet, it leads to a conclusion that might or might not be justified in Doolittle's own case, but certainly has little to do with the real problems facing the GOP as a whole.
Mr. Doolittle's near-death experience at the polls last November did not prompt a return to his ideological roots. He had already angered voters in Roseville, the largest city in his district, by opposing their ultimately successful efforts to repeal a utility tax through a ballot measure. Then this month, the former antitax champion appeared before the Sacramento Bee's editorial board and delighted them with his apparent surrender on a proposed half-cent sales-tax increase to pay for local transportation projects in the Roseville area.