This is a time of great opportunity for conservatives. Americans are beginning to render a verdict on the ‘stimulus,’ the economy, and the Obama administration’s approach. The nation continues to shed jobs, and unemployment shows no signs of leveling off any time soon. The American people are growing more and more concerned about the deficit. And the Obama administration seems split on whether another ‘stimulus’ is needed, or whether Barack Obama wouldn’t do a single thing differently.

For conservatives, the time is right to tell the American people the truth: the porkulus was always a bad idea. It cannot help economic growth. It should be repealed. And if you want to promote growth and hiring, reduce the tax and regulatory burdens that deter job creation.

Congressman Eric Cantor – hailed by many as one of the party’s rising stars – almost seems to get it. But when it comes right down to it, he can’t even state clear opposition to the porkulus:

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Monday he will request a meeting with President Barack Obama to discuss another stimulus package, but he said it should be paid for by cutting waste from the first one.

“I don’t think there’s any question that our priority over the next month should be this economy,” Cantor told reporters on a conference call. “We stand ready and willing to stand with the president and produce a bill that will generate results….”

“They didn’t misread the economy … What they did is miswrote the stimulus bill and got the prescription wrong. … The first attempt at a stimulus bill did not stimulate the economy.”

Cantor said that he’d like the meeting to focus on how “to go about redirecting some of the moneys authorized in the first round that haven’t worked” to Republican proposals for tax cuts for small businesses.

“Where do we go from here?” Cantor asked, later adding: “We ought not to be cranking up Washington’s spending machine.”

But Cantor doesn’t want to nix all the spending from February’s stimulus. He is trying to get stimulus money for a high-speed rail line from Washington, D.C., to Richmond, Va., a project he said could generate 185,000 jobs in Virginia. Even with his support for the rail line, Cantor said the larger stimulus package was a mistake.

“I don’t see any inconsistency there,” he said.

Is this really so complex?

Either the bill is bad, or it is not. How can Cantor credibly argue against it when he acknowledges there are parts he supports? And even more to the point: why is he endorsing President Obama’s argument? President Obama says the porkulus was justified because it will eventually generate needed jobs; Cantor supports the rail component because it will eventually generate needed jobs.

This is not rocket science.

No one says Eric Cantor cannot believe in high-speed rail. If he favors the project, he can convince the state of Virginia to fund it. It is irresponsible to pretend that Washington’s deficit spending is ‘free money,’ and Congressman Cantor ought to know better.

If Republicans hope to convince the American people that they are better stewards of the economy than Barack Obama, they have to do better than this.