Brian McNicoll

A few months ago, I was golfing in Maryland, and I happened to get paired with a member of the Maryland General Assembly.

I had covered Maryland politics at one time, so we did a few “do-you-knows” as the round progressed. We settled on one hapless lawmaker who had switched from the Democratic Party to the Republicans after he lost a primary, only to lose again in the general election.

“You have to give the voters a little credit,” my golfing partner said. “They do pay attention.”

He makes a good point. We don’t give voters enough credit. This is particularly unhelpful for those of us on the right because our case for political leadership depends on them paying attention. It depends on prudence, restraint, taking the long view over the short. We should embrace these characteristics, trumpet them on the stump. We should give the voters credit for knowing the gravy train has to end soon.

A couple of things got me to thinking about this over the past week. One is the steady drumbeat of columns from the left criticizing the forced-austerity programs under way in much of Europe. It’s not working, they say. Unemployment isn’t falling. The economies are not growing. We must restore Keynesian spending or risk upheaval or worse.

The other is the news, which has the left all atizzy, that President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services has certified an abstinence-only program in South Carolina as sufficiently effective and responsible to receive federal funding.

Let’s take the austerity question first. How is it not working? Government spending is being slashed. Thousands of bureaucrats are being laid off. Services and benefits and other products of the nanny state are going by the wayside. That’s what is supposed to happen.

The idea is not to produce instant economic nirvana. That’s been tried, using the government’s checkbook, and it has not worked.

The idea is to restore the government’s books to the point government can keep its promises. Think of it this way: You go to college. Your dad gives you a credit card and tells you to use it only to cover necessities and perhaps a pizza on Friday night. By the end of your first month in school, you have financed three of the biggest keggers in the history of college and, in the process, maxed out the card.

Your dad shows up the next weekend and collects the card. This is him imposing an austerity program on you. His goal is not to make it so you can immediately return to financing keg parties. It is to teach you to live within your means.

Brian McNicoll

Brian McNicoll is a conservative columnist and freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va.