There’s a large (and growing) pool of excellent conservative writers in print and online; one of the best is Jay Cost of The Weekly Standard. Jay is a practical, insightful and brutally honest political observer. His frank assessments of Republican chances in the 2008 election cycle helped prepare me for a very tough November.
This article is one of the most useful Jay’s ever written. In it, he makes a very important point: our world has changed drastically in the past half-century. As a result, American politics, and the way the American people and their politicians spend public monies, have to change as well.
What’s changed? Sources of revenue that our grandparents and parents relied upon are dwindling away.
The old metaphor, about the goose that lays the golden eggs, is a bit stale, so let’s use another metaphor in this article. Water is as good as gold in the desert, so think of America’s financial resources as a great “Golden Pond.”
A pond that’s starting to run dry. Cost explains why.
The American political process is starting to break down because of major changes to the political economy of this country. For half a century after World War II, the economy grew at such an incredible pace that we could have low taxes, high social welfare benefits, and a low deficit. This was one of the major reasons why there could be bipartisanship. Economic growth bankrolled these “great” compromises. It had very little to do with the foresight, courage, or moderation of the pols in Washington. They were just riding the wave generated by the private sector.
But all that seems to be over now. For more than a decade (not just the Great Recession but going back to 2000), economic growth has been far below its postwar average, and too low to keep the old regime afloat. You can’t have low taxes, high spending, and low deficits when the economy can’t break 3 percent growth.
This is something the D.C. establishment still does not seem to get. For years, their “farsighted,” bipartisan compromises were possible because the guys with the green eyeshades told them that the economy would grow to fill the gaps that they couldn’t fill. But now the economy can’t do that – so we have a mind-bogglingly large deficit and increased polarization in the political sphere.
That’s why the Beltway establishment has fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the Tea Party. That’s why they think the GOP battle over the debt ceiling was just plain rude.
“Bipartisanship,” when it comes to federal spending, is expensive. If you’re on the side that thinks federal spending is WAY out of control, compromise is a two-edged sword. Yes, your opponents are more happy—or, less unhappy—and feelings are less bruised all around if you compromise.
But, if your part of the compromise was to agree to higher rates of spending…well, you’re making the problem worse.
The way to fix out-of-control spending is to CUT OVERALL spending. If, in the interest of civility and compromise, you agree to let spending levels keep rising, albeit at a slower rate, you’re not fixing the problem. You’re just slowing down the rate at which the problem (in this case, deficit spending) gets worse. That’s not compromise—that’s quitting.
The Tea Party gets that. Liberal pollyanas, who long for the good old days when everyone got along so much better? Not so much.
If we don’t jumpstart economic growth, sooner or later the bondholders are going to demand structural reforms of us just like they’ve forced upon Greece today. When that day comes, God help us all, but especially help the liberal D.C. establishment! For their days of comfy preening about the ills of partisanship will be over once and for all.
Cost makes a great point about bipartisanship here. One of the main reasons both parties could get along as well as they did (supposedly) in the ’60s and ’70s was the strength of the American economy, especially vis a vis the rest of the world. Don’t forget—many of our major economic competitors nowadays were in ruins in 1945. It took them decades to recover. While they recovered, America dominated the world economic scene. No more. Moreover, our baby boomers were in the work force, generating revenue in the 60s ad 70s. Now, they’re passing into retirement and consuming benefits instead.
A few decades ago, there was enough water in the Golden Pond for everyone. Now, the pond is running dry. The choices will be a lot tougher than they were a few decades ago. Another factor to consider: both parties are much more ideological now. Conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans are basically extinct on Capitol Hill.
As a result, bipartisanship will be a lot harder to achieve. For a whole host of reasons. It’s time we all acknowledged that.