A chart and two stories in today's WSJ left me seriously depressed about the future of my country.
1. Let's start with the chart, as it illustrates what I believe to be the core problem facing our nation today:
So as we watch the eurozone crisis, we do so from an economic position in which we have a higher debt burden than not just the eurozone as a whole but also potential basket cases like Portugal and Spain. Granted, we have some advantages they don't, but it seems utterly implausible that our ever-increasing debt burden can be sustained in the long term.
Which leads to the first of the stories:
The deficit-reduction supercommittee, stuck in a partisan deadlock, faces an almost certain collapse—raising the threat of disruptive military spending cuts and a resurgent public anger at Congress as it struggles with the basic tasks of governance. ...
"From a market standpoint, we learned nothing," said Dan Greenhaus, chief market strategist at BTIG LLC, a Wall Street trading firm. "Congress is incapable of reaching broad consensus, and the supercommittee only validated what we already know." ...
"Whether we like it or not, this debt and deficit debate has become in effect a proxy for whether our democratic institutions are up to the job in the 21st Century," said Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.).
Sadly, whether the institutions are up to the job or not, it seems clear that the people running those institutions are not capable of meeting the challenges we face.
There's blame on both sides. The Republican idea that we can solve the debt problem without raising additional revenue is just absurd. We'll never be able to cut federal spending down to the 14% of GDP that currently comes in as federal revenue. But the Democrat idea that we can just keep doling out entitlement programs like candy is even more flawed. We've got to get the size of government back down to around 20% of GDP and entitlement cuts have to be a big part of doing so. After all, Willie Sutton robbed banks because that's where the money is. Well, entitlement programs and defense are where the federal government has its money, so that's where you've got to look for cuts.
Ideally, all Americans would have skin in the game. Everybody ought to pay higher taxes and everybody ought to take a cut in benefits. We can sort out how progressive those changes ought to be, but everybody needs to have a stake in the success or failure of the American enterprise.
But don't expect DC to get us there.
3. Why can't our leaders lead? Because they're (a) hyper-partisan and (b) dumb as bricks. Today's case in point is Balanced-Budget Bust: The House GOP loses its constitutional amendment ploy.
Symbolic gambits rarely work in politics, and so it went Friday for House Republicans on their balanced-budget amendment. Not only did they fail to pass the amendment, but they succeeded in giving Blue Dog Democrats political cover as fiscal conservatives. Other than that, Speaker Boehner, how was the ploy?
Republicans had hoped to be able to put Senate Democrats on the spot by passing a balanced-budget amendment in the House without any spending or tax limitation provisions. Instead, Democratic leaders whipped against the vote, and Republicans fell 23 votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to amend the Constitution.
The vote did, however, give 25 Democrats a chance to vote in favor of the amendment. Those 25 are nearly all swing-district Democrats who Republicans have the best chance of defeating next year. They include Larry Kissel and Heath Shuler, a pair of Members from North Carolina, where redistricting should make the seats especially competitive. Now the two incumbents can say they voted against Nancy Pelosi and President Obama, without having to vote to cut a dollar of spending.
On that point, the best commentary came from Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, who was one of four Republicans to vote against the amendment. "This version of the balanced-budget amendment makes it more likely taxes will be raised, government will grow and economic freedom will be diminished," he said. A balanced-budget amendment could as easily become an engine for a new value-added tax as it could for spending cuts or entitlement reform.
So the House GOP leadership took a good idea--i.e., the balanced budget amendment--and turned it into a very bad idea--i.e., a seriously flawed version of a balanced budget amendment--and then ran it up the flagpole in hopes of scoring political points. But all they succeeded in doing was giving political cover to the most vulnerable of their opponents. The proverbial gang that couldn't shoot straight in action.
So there you have the American Disease: A nation run by people of bad will, who are possessed of bad ideas and crippled by a raging case of incompetence.
So what's the solution? David Frum offers up yet another version of his now familiar critique of the current state of the Republican party. At the outset, let me be clear that i agree with much of his critique.
But my basic problem with David's analysis is that it's so one-sided. Here's the money quote:
... some of my colleagues emerged from [the Busy years] years eager to revenge themselves and escalate political conflict: “They send one of ours to the hospital, we send two of theirs to the morgue.” I came out thinking, I want no more part of this cycle of revenge.
Addmirable? Yes. Practicable? No.
If the leadership of the left consisted of people of moderate views, sound judgment, even temper, and good will, unilateral disarmament of the sort David seems to contemplate might make sense.
But the right did not invent the politics of personal destruction. There's a reason, after all, that "to Bork" became a verb. The left long has been devoted to high tech lynchings of uppity conservatives, especially minorities and women, and the rise of the left wing blogosphere has only raised the ante. So if we stop sending "two of theirs to the morgue," the Democrats will still send "one of ours to the hospital."
In sum, having a Republican lamb lie down with a Democratic lion is not a viable solution. The former would never get back up and the latter would start looking for its next meal almost immediately.
Update: And, just to be clear, a Democratic lamb would not fare any better amidst GOP lions. My point here is that Frum was declaring a plague on one of the two houses of our modern political class, whereas I say a plague on both their houses. As Cromwell may have said to the House of Commons when he dismissed the Rump Parliament, "You are no more capable of managing the affairs of this nation than you are of running a brothel!," so say I to both sides of our modern Congress.