In an effort to cut costs, the U.S. Air Force reportedly plans to move eight giant C-130 cargo planes from their current base in Texas. During hurricane evacuations in the U.S. Gulf Coast states, those eight planes are used to ferry people out and bring supplies in — and the governors of those five states are complaining about the potential loss of the planes to the area.
The governors of the five Gulf Coast states sent a letter to Barack Obama opposing the plan to pull the planes out of Texas and move them to Montana. (The entire Texas congressional delegation signed the letter, too.) They say that the planes would be too far away in the future to provide quick and effective help in case of hurricane disasters, so they want to planes to keep sitting there — waiting for the next time they need them. Without paying for them, of course.
And here’s the key. All five of those governors are Republicans. All five claim to be conservatives at election time. They speak of cutting taxes and slashing budgets. When it’s not election time, though, they’re more interested in what goodies they can get that are funded by national taxpayers. They’re opposed to any cuts that might affect their states. Why is there such a disconnect between their campaign rhetoric and what they work for once they’re in office?
People running for office will say whatever voters want to hear, but once they’re elected, they’ll say whatever voters want to hear then, too — even if those things contradict one another. Voters who call themselves conservatives say they want lower taxes and cuts in government spending, so candidates promise that. But those same folks who call themselves conservatives want to be able to count on Uncle Sam coming to the rescue when they’re in trouble, so the “conservatives” they elected will demand federal spending once they’re in office.
Many people contradict themselves politically and don’t even realize it. This is an issue about which conservative Republican voters are blind and conservative Republicans politicians can’t pretend not to be blind about. Ultimately, they repeat the word “conservative” without ever understanding what it means in the fiscal sense. That’s true of both voters and candidates.
I’ve told this story before, but these governors remind me of one of my very first political clients. She had no idea what she believed in, but she knew she was a conservative. It was about 20 years ago and I was new enough in political consulting that I’d take whatever clients I could get. The woman was a first-time candidate running for an office with enough prominence that she was going to be interviewed by a local TV news crew. She was terrified, and she became my client because she needed someone to help her prepare and then to run her campaign.
I did a mock interview in front of a video camera and tried tossing her softballs in the beginning just to get her comfortable. I just asked her to tell me what she was in favor of — what she believed in.
“Well, I’m a conservative,” she said confidently.
“What does that mean? What do you believe in?” I asked.
“Well … I’m a conservative. I believe in … well … conservative things. … So I’m … conservative.”
Things went downhill from there. She had no idea what she believed. The only thing she was sure of was that she was a conservative. Over the years, I’ve come to believe that most people are in the same boat. They know what label they apply to themselves, but they have little idea what it means. (The same is true for people who use other labels, such as “liberal,” too.)
Taxpayers all over the country have no business paying for the cost of evacuations and supply for people who choose to live in the path of hurricanes. If the people of those states need aircraft, they should pay for them. Better yet, the individuals who choose to live in those places should pay for their own needs. People in California and Michigan and Rhode Island have no business paying the cost for those on the Gulf Coast of Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi.
If the governors of these five states were truly fiscal conservatives, they would be happy for the Air Force to save money and they’d take care of their own needs. But because of the strange system we have today — where people don’t want to pay for something with state taxes, but think they’re getting something for free when it’s “federal money” — politicians have every incentive to talk out of both sides of their mouths.
Our political system is full of such contradictions. Until people have to pay the price for the things they demand of politicians, we’re always going to have people demanding a free lunch. When the bill comes due, everybody is going to pay a very big price.