Sen. Warren Rudman, who died this week, used to be considered a conservative.
It's not that he wasn't a conservative; the New Hampshire Yankee, with his determination to rein in out-of-control spending and bring the federal budget under control, was indeed a true conservative. He didn't change. His party did.
The GOP for ages had sought to brand itself as the party of fiscal discipline, and that has sometimes been actually true. They lost their street cred on that one during the George W. Bush years, when they agreed to pay for two wars without raising taxes at all—an historic case of not only failing to ask Americans to sacrifice during wartime, but actually cutting their tax obligation during wartime. They also created an entirely new federal agency, ushered in unprecedented federal control over elementary and secondary education, and created an entirely new pharmaceutical entitlement under Medicare.
Where were those conservatives?
They didn't come back during the Obama administration. Instead, self-proclaimed "conservatives" became the group of people on the Hill who categorically refuse to compromise on anything, no matter what damage it might to do the country. In 2011, the most hardcore of this group sought to stop the raising of the debt ceiling, and just the threat of that irresponsible action resulted in a downgrade of the country's credit rating.
Rudman was the proud co-author of the Gramm-Rudman budget-cutting act. It may have been Draconian, but it was a sincere and credible effort to control spending. He continued this work long after he left the Senate. Nor was Rudman the sort of lawmaker who was incapable of getting along with members of Congress who were different than he was. When Rep. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat, became the first member of Congress to announce publicly that he was gay, he ended his momentous day at a local grocery on the Hill. Frank ran into Rudman, and they exchanged hellos. And when Frank was near the door, Rudman—who was on the other end of the store—yelled across the aisle, loud enough to be heard by others: "I'm proud of you, Barney."
Rudman will be missed—not just for the man he was, but for the era of cooperation and collegiality he represented.