It’s Up to the Voters

There was a time when something like the “Supercommittee” set up to cut a relatively modest $1.2 trillion over ten years at a minimum (with hope for a larger deal) would have been almost certain to succeed.  There was a time when the top political leaders would get behind closed doors and say “let’s do what needs to be done, and craft find a deal each of us can live with.”   They’d agree to split the political costs and put the country ahead of the next election.

Those days are long past.  Now DC is divided by a deep partisan rift.  That much isn’t new; partisan division has been the norm in the US since the founding of the country.   Now, however, it has led to political dysfunction as ideology creates a kind of jihadist mentality.   No tax increases ever!  Social Security must be untouched!  Ideology trumps rationality.

I’ve pointed out many times that ideology is a very poor way to interpret reality.  Ideologies are overly simplified visions of reality that, when taken as dogma, make it possible to interpret reality through that lens.  That doesn’t mean you can’t have some kind of ideological world view, it just means one needs to remember that the ideology itself both a simplified version of reality and only one take on it.

Take FOX news for example.   They are perhaps the most blatant “news” source that interprets what they report through a clear ideological prism.   The result: Fox viewers know less about what’s going on in the world than even those who watch no news.    Interpreting the world through an ideological lens without critically reflecting on that lens or the information means one has a poorer understanding of reality.   The survey cited isn’t extensive enough to prove that broader theme, but the evidence fits.

If mediocre minds (and most politicians fit this bill) get comfortable with ideology driven understandings of reality, they can feel they are on like a holy crusade to get the “right” policies passed.   Compromise is seen as weakness.   Yet compromise is the essence of the American political system.   We’ve always had hyper partisan political fights, but the politicians in the end built personal relationships with each other, recognized the need to problem solve, and did what was necessary.   Even the Republican hero Ronald Reagan was a pragmatist when it came to Congress — that’s what the founders intended; the founders were above all else pragmatists.

They looked to Montesquieu and took concepts such as checks and balances and separation of power — something Montesquieu learned about by studying the old Roman Republic — and shaped a system that could not easily be dominated by one party or person.   With frequent elections alongside such divisions of power, it is almost always a necessity that politicians compromise.   Even when one party controls all branches of government compromise can be difficult, as the health care battle of 2010 demonstrated.

However, the system requires the political leaders to want to govern more than just campaign.   The country has to be more important than the next election.   Getting the job done has to be more important than ideological purity.   There are still politicians like that in each party, but they’re getting drowned out by the ideologues.   In the case of the super committee the Republicans are more to blame for its failure, and they perhaps have the most to lose.

Democrats generally supported a plan like that of President Obama to mix dramatic cuts in spending with moderate tax increases, as well as some reforms of medicare and social security.   This would be a high stakes agreement, with the GOP losing the political weapon of saying “we never raise taxes” while Democrats could no longer say “we won’t touch entitlements.”   If done right neither side would be happy, but an important step in fixing the economic imbalances would have been taken.

The Republicans balked at any tax increase.   Even when members of the committee seemed to warm up to the idea it may be necessary to reach a compromise, the message from the rest of the GOP Congress was clear: don’t you dare.   The Democrats may have ultimately had problems with entitlements, but it never got that far — and without tax increases a budget deal is DOA.

When the Supercommittee was created it appeared that it was a victory for the Republicans.   Speaker Boehner said he got “98%” of what he wanted, and President Obama’s approval ratings sank.  He was seen as weak in standing up to the Republicans, and unable to lead in a time of crisis, leading to a downgrade of US bonds by Standard and Poor’s.    Yet now the Democrats find that the triggered $1.2 trillion cuts that get made without an agreement don’t look so bad.   They contain a lot of defense spending cuts that Democrats genuinely find more appealing than do Republicans.   Medicare and the entitlements are protected.    The cuts sting the GOP more than they do the Democrats, and they set up an election that could play into Democratic hands.

DC protesters mock the Supercommittee

First, one has a do-nothing Congress that can’t reach agreement.   The GOP in the House can pass their own plans, but that’s a kind of political masturbation.   The trick is to pass something that both can agree too.   The Democrats in the Senate could face similar criticism but they’ve appeared more willing to compromise and anyway, the House takes the lead on spending and revenue bills.

Second, as Americans start to wake up to how relative wealth has shifted away from the middle class to the wealthiest, the election will pose a simple question: given the crisis we’re in and the spending cuts that we know we need to make, should the wealthiest Americans play slightly higher taxes?   Recognizing that the cuts hurt the middle class and poor, and that even with higher taxes wealthy Americans will still be the least taxed wealthy of the industrialized world, that is an argument the Democrats are poised to win.

Finally, it will appear that the GOP class of 2010 blew its chance to make a difference.   People voted them in not to get a right wing crusade — many of these voters also voted for Obama in 2008.   They wanted to force the two parties to work together and felt that with health care and other issues the Democrats were using their control of Congress to push through their own agenda.   Indeed, the 111th Congress under Nancy Pelosi was one of the most effective in history at getting legislation passed.   But rather than forcing the Democrats to compromise the GOP put up a brick wall, and Congressional approval is lower than ever.   This means the Democrats have a small chance to take the House back in 2012.

It’s up to the voters.  If they vote out Obama and give the Senate to the Republicans, the GOP can start making cuts with no tax increases — and the Democrats will be ready to bounce back in 2014.   If the status quo is maintained the GOP will realize it has four more years of Obama and can’t stall hoping to have the White House soon.  If the Democrats regain power in the House it will be narrow enough that they may see a need to compromise in order to avoid a debacle by 2010.    But the politicians aren’t going to do anything major until they hear from the voters next year.

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  1. #1 by modestypress on November 23, 2011 - 04:06

    The “Civil” War was not really about “states rights,” or at the very least that claim was hopeless contaminated by the sin of slavery. However, perhaps the time has come for the United States to split into two separate countries, one based on the Red State Philosophy and the other on the Blue State Philosophy.

    The mechanics of implementing such a split are terrifying; they would make the splits that led to Pakistan and then Bangladesh seem like pieces of cake. But we sure seem to be headed down that path, don’t we?

  2. #2 by renaissanceguy on November 25, 2011 - 06:24

    I have heard of at least two series attempts to take over states. A group of Evangelical Christians were trying to convince people to move to South Carolina to get a majority voting bloc. Some libertarians are doing the same thing in New Hampshire. I think that Modesty Press is on to something. Groups of like-minded people should live together in the same state.

    The tax-and-spend crowd should all move to nine select sates: Washington, Oregon, California, Michigan, Illinois, New Jersey, Delaware, Massachusetts, Rhode Island. Those who live on government handouts can relocate there. The rest of us can live in peace and freedom in the rest of the states.

    Of course, we’ll have to end some federal departments and most federal agencies. They really interfere with states.

    • #3 by Norbrook on November 28, 2011 - 14:08

      To a large extent, that’s already happening, at least on a small scale. Over the past 20 years or so, Americans have had a habit of “self-segregating.” I don’t have the citation handy, but one of the analyses of the voting/census behavior of various towns/neighborhoods over time has tended to become more homogeneous, as people move around. That is, people move to where they’re “the same.”

      The thing is, that’s only true on the micro scale, not the macro. My state is considered “blue,” yet my region of the state is predominately “red.” Now, your idea of “dependent on government handouts” should take a look at actual financial data. Most of the states you mention are considerably less dependent on them than most of the “Red States.”

  3. #4 by Scott Erb on November 26, 2011 - 14:30

    Except there isn’t a “tax and spend” crowd that is dedicated to having people live off government handouts. That’s a fiction created by the right to try to get the middle class not to notice how the wealthiest game the system for their benefit. If they can get poor and middle class folk to think that the poor are the enemy while they milk the system for whatever they can get, then they’ll laugh the way to the bank watching struggling middle class folk defend the system and attack the poor. Meanwhile, those on the left who want real opportunity so that hard work and innovation get rewarded and the elite can’t structure the system in their favor struggle to get the message out that the ideology spread by FOX and a few other pundits is a lie (some even take a very post-modern view — Heritage Foundation has said that they have ‘conservative’ news, meaning that news is no longer objective but depends on the perspective one chooses). I think, though, OWS is finally starting to get the word out, and people are realizing that nobody wants just tax and spend, government handouts and forced equal outcomes. It’s just about opportunity and justice. It’s not bad to be rich, but the rich should be rich due to their effort and innovation, not because they game the system.

  4. #5 by Alan Scott on November 28, 2011 - 23:14

    Scott,

    All of this is still class warfare to pass the blame of a bad economy away from President Obama and the Democrats . Blame, blame, blame the Republicans, the rich, anyone except Democrats . Blame Republicans for the deficit. You speak of politicians who care about governing more than reelection. Look at your guy Obama. Every single decision is about politics, not governing. It is not a pox on both your houses. There is one party to blame and they appropriately have a donkey for a symbol .

    The whole tax increase game is totally dishonest. If Republicans give in on taxes, the unspecified spending cuts will never ever happen. Democrats will just refuse to honor their promises.

    • #6 by Scott Erb on November 28, 2011 - 23:24

      You can’t blame the bad economy on President Obama — this crisis hit hard in 2008 and I noted then it was going to be a long time to get through. You’re right on one thing — playing the blame game is stupid. Both parties built the deficit, both parties ignored the bubbles (it was Clinton’s free traders who fought efforts to regulate OTC derivatives), both parties focus on politics. However, Obama has made unpopular choices based on things he thought right for the country, including trying to reach a ‘grand compromise’ with Boehner. The GOP, playing politics and putting electoral competition ahead of governing nixed that. Also, the tax increases would be in exchange for SPECIFIED cuts. Saying “it would never happen” is sort of a wimpy way to rationalize not doing what needs to be done.

      No, both are to blame, but the Republicans ideology has been disproven by how the market failed with the CDOs and derivative scam, and now their inability to deal with the problem puts the Democrats in a very strong position going into 2012. If the Republicans weren’t caught up in obsolete ideology, they’d be cruising to victory because of the economy. Instead, they’re creating a framework for their own collapse. Romney can potentially save them, so could Huntsman. We need a strong two party system, and as a former Republican I’d like the GOP to return from extremist ideology.

  5. #7 by Alan Scott on November 29, 2011 - 22:53

    Scott,

    ” You can’t blame the bad economy on President Obama — this crisis hit hard in 2008 and I noted then it was going to be a long time to get through. ”

    Of course I can blame him . He was there as a Senator and did nothing to stop anything . That aside, you Democrats are very good at playing the what if game . What if President Obama was not there to save the day ? Things would have been so much worse. I say things would have been so much better under President McCain and Vice President Palin . I say, Obama made things much worse than they would have been under any other Chief Executive.

    Like you cannot prove yourself right, you cannot prove me wrong . That is the trouble with what ifs.

    ” Both parties built the deficit, both parties ignored the bubbles (it was Clinton’s free traders who fought efforts to regulate OTC derivatives), both parties focus on politics ”

    For a change, I will not even bash Clinton . Who broke down the rules on mortgages ? Who allowed Fannie and Freddie to control half the mortgages in the whole country ? Why didn’t Canada have a mortgage meltdown . Their bankers, not as evil as American bankers? Canada did not have a Fannie and Freddie to lend to people who never should have been lent money. Once Fannie and Freddie screwed up the mortgage industry, it allowed Wall Street to expand the housing bubble even more.

    And as a further argument against your continuing ‘ pox on both your houses ‘ theory, I leave you with the following ‘ Evidence ‘, of how Barney Frank and his fellow Democrats protected their good buddies running the GSEs in 2003 . You remember 2003 ? That was when the meltdown should have been stopped in it’s tracks . But then your buddies Obama, Reid, and Pelosi would have never seized power in 2008. Funny how things work out for the best .

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122290574391296381.html

    ” he country, including trying to reach a ‘grand compromise’ with Boehner. The GOP, playing politics and putting electoral competition ahead of governing nixed that. Also, the tax increases would be in exchange for SPECIFIED cuts. ”

    What cuts were those ?????? As I recall Obama made a proposal for imaginary cuts, because the man will not tell the truth .

  6. #8 by Scott Erb on November 29, 2011 - 23:03

    Except, of course, the meltdown wasn’t caused by Freddie or Fannie, the private banks and lenders passed them buy, they didn’t want their bad mortgages to be held to the standards Freddie and Fannie still maintained. Freddie and Fannie became all but irrelevant (and would later mimic the big banks, but not to the extremes that the private banks took.) It is utterly impossible to blame this on Freddie and Fannie, or even on mortgages (theirs did much better than the ones held by the big banks and turned into CDOs). Freddie and Fannie took a back seat to the big private banks. Now, in 2008 they tried to play catch up and took on bad mortgages, but those mistakes – as bad as they were — weren’t the cause of the crisis, they came very late into the game.

    You keep asserting Freddie and Fannie were at fault, but I’ve never seen any evidence to suggest that true. It’s Lehman’s, Goldman Sachs, Countrywide, Ameriquest, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, Deutsche Bank, Bear Stearns, etc. that caused the meltdown. And guess what, in 2003 Republicans were praising them and the private sector. Your finger of blame is pointed in the wrong direction! I’ll criticize Freddie and Fannie, but it’s ideological fantasy to think they’re to blame — you can’t even back that claim up with evidence or an argument.

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