Saturday, December 5, 2009

Never Let Waste Go To a Crisis

Nice little piece by Nina Easton in (of all places!) Time Magazine. In it, Easton notes that, despite historical precedents which would incline one to believe the contrary, the current shambles which is the American economy has, by and large not driven vast numbers of people to seek succor at the teat of vastly increased government spending programs.
"Audacity" was a catchy campaign theme, but it's less attractive as a governing principle. The all-important swing voters who decide elections are nervous about dramatic expansions of the Federal Government--even and especially in this time of economic distress. As it turns out, this financial crisis was not the call to bold action that White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said shouldn't "go to waste." Quite the opposite: if he doesn't want his presidency to be held hostage by a string of nail-biter votes in Congress, Obama needs to recognize that he overestimated the public's appetite for taxpayer-funded solutions.
 I do think Easton is onto something here. Where the New Deal and the Great Society gained quite durable (if debatably healthsome) traction by offering the promise of remedies for the common American in difficult times, the ambitious Obama agenda of pumping up government and injecting it into greater swathes of the private sector have little to offer the man/woman on the street. Quite the contrary, as Americans witness the grim spectacle of  a lumbering jobless recovery, logarithmically expanding debts and deficits, and the "promise" of inflated taxation to provide vaporware revenues in a steadily deflating currency, the thinking which underlies these practices has been losing market share rather than gaining it.

This is a point to be considered very seriously by any Democrats who hope to hold onto their majority in the upcoming midterms.  These are precisely the circumstances under which one would expect desperate people to look to their government to swoop in and solve their problems. The fact that there is a far smaller-than-anticipated appetite for such top-down solutions presents an opportunity for the Democratic party to read some pretty stark tea leaves (pun intentional) and swing toward the center as it was forced to do after its rout in 1994. However, I have no particularly strong sense that the Obama-Pelosi-Reid axis possesses the canny pragmatism which typified their Clintonian forebears.

Similarly, I hope that Republicans, reflecting on the party's loss of focus after the "Contract With America," will look very carefully at the calls for a "big tent" approach which would have them compromise too strenuously on matters of leaner government and fiscal conservatism. While the idea of an ideological "Purity test" makes me uneasy as a goal state for the GOP, the fact of its proposal can and should serve as an important call to action for a party which has ceded far too much political territory to the centralizing, tax-and-spend philosophies of its adversaries.

While the Tea Partiers and Libertarians may push the envelope a mite too far for my tastes (and they surely do), they offer unmistakable evidence that a continued blurring of the lines between the Republican and Democratic parties will not be tolerated. Rather than the "civil war" and "fracturing" of the GOP which so many Liberals so gleefully declare, I see this as a healthy dialogue taking place within the ranks of those for whom free markets and free people can offer a legitimate alternative to the central planning. It is a conversation which will, it is hoped, delineate the degree to which the GOP chooses to stake its claim to a true and valid antithesis to the thesis that government-controlled "fairness" is a viable organizing framework for a liberal, mercantile republic.

If Easton's observations are as on-target as I suspect that they are, then there is fertile ground in the American electorate for the synthesis which could emerge from this process.

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