Democrats may face tough choices now


For most of the post-World War II era, our debates over taxing and spending have taken place in an atmosphere of surplus. The operative question has been how best to divide a growing pie, which has enabled politicians in both parties to practice a kind of ideologically flexible profligacy. Republicans from Dwight Eisenhower to George W. Bush have increased spending, Democrats from John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton have found ways to cut taxes, and the great American growth machine has largely kept the toughest choices off the table.{1}

But not anymore. Between our slowing growth and our unsustainable spending commitments, “the days when lawmakers could give to some Americans without shortchanging others are over; the politics of deciding who loses what, and when and how, is upon us.”{2}  In this era, debates will be increasingly zero-sum, bipartisan compromise will be increasingly difficult, and “the rules and norms of our politics that several generations have taken for granted” will fade away into irrelevance.

The author may have been proving a point by providing a contrast to the normal activities of these presidents, but it should be noted that while these Republican presidents have exhibited poor spending habits at times, their goal has always been to slow spending and cut taxes.  Democrats, on the other hand, have exhibited a propensity to raise taxes and raise fat bottom line spending figures, unless they were forced to face a Republican Congress or a possible re-election defeat.

“The great American growth machine has largely kept the toughest choices off the table,” the author writes.  This line is a direct contradiction to everything we’ve been told by the last two Democrat presidents, and the other two unsuccessful Democrat candidates.  For a generation Democrat candidates for president have told us that making “tough choices” means raising taxes.  Tough choices, as Democrats define it, means taking money away from earners and giving it to those who haven’t earned it.  Tough choices, as Bill and Hillary defined it, meant that they had to decide if the “free ride” of earners keeping more of their money was over.   Now we learn, from this author, that “tough choices” have been kept off the table for a generation due to American prosperity?  That makes no sense to Democrat voters.  They think we’ve been making tough choices all along.

The “tough choices” label weas a ruse, of course, that gave Democrats cover for choosing legislative agendas that were perfectly in line with their tax and spend philosophy.  They’ve done this for as long as most of us have been alive, so what was so tough about it?  Were they talking about the tough choices that the American citizens would have to face when they found out that they would have less of their hard earned money to spend?  The author details that Democrats were never making tough choices, for the American growth machine (i.e. the private sector) allowed them to avoid them.  They took more of your money, and spent more, and they got re-elected on that premise.  Until now that is, as the author correctly points out.  Now that the American growth machine has begun to slow, thanks in part to Nancy Pelosi’s Congressional sessions and Barack Obama’s taxation and regulation on the private sector, true tough choices may be on the horizon for Democrats if they want to join us in averting the sure disaster that looms on the horizon.

It’s useful to think of Obama’s stimulus bill and Walker’s budget repair bill as mirror image exercises in legislative shock and awe.

Most of those of us who have been paying attention to politics have no idea how these bills mirror one another.  Bush passed a stimulus bill in 2008, so Obama’s stimulus bill was more of the same.  Unless, that is, you factor in amounts:  Obama’s was 830 billion, where Bush’s was 170 billion.  Still, it had been done before, so I wouldn’t call it shock and awe, or unprecedented, to the way things were done in Washington. Walker’s budget repair bill, in the first public sector state in the union, could very easily be called full of shock and awe against the way things were done in Wisconsin.  Another distinction is the results.  Even President Obama has admitted that the shovel ready jobs the stimulus package hoped to create weren’t there, and most would admit that his stimulus bill was at least ineffective if not a total disaster.  Walker’s budget repair bill could be said to have produced shockingly productive results to those who were unprepared for them to work.

This is a perfect encapsulation of what’s happened in Wisconsin these last two years: Walker and the Republicans used a narrow mandate to enact unexpectedly dramatic public-sector reforms, and the Democrats responded by upping the ante significantly, with mass protests, walkouts by state legislators and finally a recall campaign. A similar story could be told about Barack Obama’s Washington, in which a temporarily ascendant Democratic Party pushed through sweeping spending bills and social-compact altering health care legislation before unprecedented Republican obstructionism ground the process to a halt. In fact, it’s useful to think of Obama’s stimulus bill and Walker’s budget repair bill as mirror image exercises in legislative shock and awe, and the Tea Party and the Wisconsin labor protests as mirror images of backlash.

The author of this piece provides the delusion that President Barack Obama and the temporarily ascendant Democratic Party’s sweeping spending bills and social-compact altering health care legislation may have been successful if it weren’t for the unprecedented Republican obstructionism.  The first question one has to ask is how was the obstructionism unprecedented?  Is the author stating that the party that opposes a president has never tried to stop the legislative agenda of a president before in the history of our nation?  To even attempt to list the precedents would not only be redundant to those who know them, but it would provide a list that would disinterest you, the reader, after the first ten or twenty listed.

The second note to make is that the sweeping spending bills, and the health care bill were already voted on, and already in the books, prior to the Republicans taking the House in 2010.  The Republican obstructionism basically halted the destruction, but they haven’t had the votes to take them off the books.

Also, to say that the Tea Party and the Wisconsin labor protests mirrored one another in anyway other than as a general backlash would be foolish.  The Tea Party was a peaceful gathering in which people spoke, and others listened.  Anyone who attended a Tea Party gathering knows that they weren’t anything close to the spectacle witnessed during the Wisconsin labor protests.  The Tea Party gatherings were a little boring by comparison.  The guy next to me shouted twice, and that was the highlight of the evening as far as controversy is concerned.  The Tea Party was nationwide; it was a gathering that called for more responsibility in government; and gatherers even went so far to clean the grounds on which the rally took place.  Were there police there?  Yes, but they didn’t have anything to do.  Some of them left our rally, others joined in symbolically, and I’m quite sure a few of them were even allowed to catch up on much needed sleep.  At the Wisconsin labor protests, the police were forced to make arrests, they had to drag people dragged out of Wisconsin’s capitol, they had to engage in crowd control amidst the mayhem and chaos, and they had to deal with destruction of public and private property.  You could say that the Wisconsin labor protests were more exciting, but in every other way there was no comparison.

At both the state and national level, then, the two coalitions are aiming for a mix of daring on offense, fortitude on defense and ruthless counterattacks whenever possible. The goal is to simultaneously maximize the opportunities presented to one’s own side and punish the other party for trying to do the same.

That’s obviously what the organizers of the recall hoped to do to Walker – to punish his union busting and spending cuts as thoroughly as House Democrats were punished in the 2010 mid-term elections for the votes they cast on the health care bill and the stimulus. The fact that the labor unions and liberal activists failed where the Tea Party largely succeeded sends a very different message, though: It tells officeholders that it’s safer to take on left-wing interest groups than conservative ones (the right outraised and outspent the left by a huge margin in the recall election), safer to cut government than to increase revenue, safer to face down irate public sector employees than irate taxpayers.

The author lays out the possible answers one can arrive at based on Scott Walker’s recent victory over the recall attempts made on him, his Lieutenant Governor, and all of the State Senators, but he doesn’t ask why this is the case.  He says that “the right outraised and outspent the left by a huge margin in the recall election.”  Fair enough, but he doesn’t ask the question why the Republican side had more money?  Why didn’t Milwaukee Mayor Barrett, and all of the other Democrat candidates defeated yesterday, not have more money invested in their campaigns?  Also, if it’s all about the money, why was the movie Larry Crowne a failure at the box office?  Universal Studios spent millions on the production and promotion of a Tom Hanks produced movie, and no one went to see it.  I understand that the two are not exactly linear comparisons, but some believe the art of persuasion is solely created by money and ad campaigns.  But if you don’t have a great product, or that product does not produce results, you can spend trillions, and most taxpayers will still be more inclined to support those groups that take on left-wing interest groups.

Why is it “safer” to go after a public sector employee, because a public sector employee generally wants more money at the expense of….who cares?  Their argument is not concerned with government and supluses and deficits that cost the taxpayer.  They just want theirs.  Why is it safer to cut government than to increase revenue, because it’s the irate taxpayer’s money they’re taking and allocating and wasting in truly unprecedented ways.

It goes against everything some people, like this author, tend to believe, but most people are for a smaller, more responsible government that is more representative of the manner in which they want their government run, and it doesn’t take a huge amount of money to appeal to that side of the electorate.

{1} http://campaignstops.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/06/no-recall/ {2} http://www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/the-politics-of-loss

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