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EDITORIAL: The Spanish premonition

Conservatives finally reign in Spain

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Spanish voters threw out their Socialist government on Sunday in favor of the conservative alternative. It was the fifth government in Europe to fall victim to the financial crisis, and a warning to American liberals that an era of adult leadership is dawning.

The People's Party, led by former Interior Minister Mariano Rajoy, seized a parliamentary majority with 186 of 350 seats, up from 154. The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) dropped from 169 to 110 seats on a mere 28.7 percent of the vote. Warning signs had been rife that the Socialists were in trouble. The People's Party had outpaced the SWP in generic opinion polls for two years, and recent polling had shown a decided drop in pro-Socialist sentiment. In May, the SWP was routed in local and regional elections, losing majority status across the country. Conservatives took outright majorities in eight of 13 regions. The prospects were so grim that Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero decided not to stand for re-election, handing command of the sinking Socialist ship to his deputy, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba.

During the campaign, socialists accused Mr. Rajoy of vagueness about how he would deal with Spain's economic problems. The fourth-largest economy in the eurozone is suffering unemployment over 20 percent and crushing government debt. This situation is so bad that even the Socialists were forced to act somewhat responsibly, cutting government worker pay and challenging the power of labor unions. Mr. Rajoy is likely to pursue further austerity measures and has pledged to cut business taxes to help spur growth. "There won't be any miracles," Mr. Rajoy cautioned in his victory speech. This is a refreshing message from a politician, as most, particularly on the left, have a faith in government intervention bordering on a belief in magic.

Spanish voters have chosen a return to responsible government. Mr. Rajoy may administer tough medicine, but this is necessary in countries that have lived beyond their means for too long. The problem in the world today is not that capitalism has failed, despite what you might have read on a cardboard sign in occupied McPherson Square. It is that governments - in Europe, the Americas and elsewhere - overplayed their hands. For years, politicians courted voters and interest groups with promises of entitlements, handouts, sweetheart contracts and other treats. They believed they would be able to extract the cost of those programs from the productive classes or that they could make up shortfalls by digging a bottomless well of debt that would never be repaid. Eventually, however, reality caught up with big government and its phony promises.

It would be a reach to use this election as a bellwether for the 2012 U.S. presidential race, but the pattern is familiar. Republican congressional, state and local electoral victories in 2010 and 2011, anemic growth, high debt and sagging Democratic opinion polls augur well for the GOP. They might also adopt Mr. Rajoy's campaign slogan: "Vote for change." It would have a nice ring to it this time around.

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