The “fiscal cliff” coming on Dec. 31 will automatically cause everyone’s taxes to rise and draconian defense cuts to go into effect. That leaves Republicans and conservatives having to fight a very public battle on these matters only weeks after a national defeat.

And they’ve somehow been maneuvered into arguing that benefits must be cut and taxes on the wealthy must not be raised — without having a single populist argument in their favor.

The only one that comes close is the invocation of the pain small businesses will experience from a tax hike. Fine, but unless you yourself are a small businessman or employed by one, you might not care all that much.

Thus, the political movement that came to maturity by advocating for dynamic American optimism has morphed into what it was at its most pinched and parched in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s: the eat-your-vegetables-and-shut-up party.