Kent Conrad Was The Deficit Hawk Who Loved To Spend


With Senator Kent Conrad’s career finally (and thankfully, for the good of the nation) in the books the North Dakota media, always deferential to Conrad and his “Team North Dakota” cohorts, is busy eulogizing his career.

Conrad will be heralded as independent minded, even though he obeyed partisan orders when told, as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, to stop budgeting for three years. He’ll be given glowing praise as an influential leader on fiscal issues, even though by his own admission he’s ending his career “not in the room” for some of the most important fiscal negotiations of his career. He will garner applause as a warrior for North Dakota, even though his citizenship in the state stopped being anything more than a paperwork fiction years ago.

And, of course, his acceptance of “VIP loan” discounts from one of the worst subprime lending offenders in the country in exchange for ushering through bailouts at the pinnacle of the housing bubble will be carefully whitewashed.

These facts don’t fit Kent Conrad’s narrative as his friends in the state media like to tell it. Were the state’s newspapers and television stations as influential as they once were Conrad would probably be celebrating re-election right now instead of doddering into retirement, disgraced and ineffective.

None of this would be particularly noteworthy, except this excerpt from the Bismarck Tribune’s version of the Great Kent Conrad SlobberfestTM caught my eye given the magnitude of the cognitive dissonance on display:

His conservative detractors took umbrage when Conrad was labeled a “deficit hawk.” They could not make the connection between the senator’s conservative economic rhetoric and his votes for spending programs authored by Democrats.

Conrad saw the need to be fiscally responsible, but he also saw the need for social responsibility, just as he saw the need for a federal safety net for farmers at the same time he worked to create a long-term plan for reducing the federal debt.

Just so we’re clear, it was ok for Conrad to be a total hypocrite and partisan hack on the whole “deficit hawk” think – the label that best describes how Conrad has tried to portray his career – because that was about “social responsibility.”

So Conrad was a “deficit hawk.” Until some new spending program came along that rang the right “social responsibility” bells (more like “get Kent re-elected” bells), and then fiscal discipline took a back seat.

That sounds like a succinct summary of everything that’s wrong with this nation’s finances. Maybe one day we’ll wake up and realize that this parochial attitude, this “let’s cut everyone else’s spending but not ours” position, is how a country gets $16.5 trillion in debt.

Rob Port

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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