Can a nation remain a superpower if its internal politics are incorrigibly stupid?
Start with taxes. In every other serious democracy, conservative political parties feel at least some obligation to match their tax policies with their spending plans. David Cameron, the new Conservative prime minister in Britain, is a leading example.That last sentence triggers in me a feeling I have experienced more than once recently: a vicarious weariness on behalf of Democrats in Congress.
He recently offered a rather brutal budget that includes severe cutbacks. I have doubts about some of them, but at least Cameron cared enough about reducing his country's deficit that alongside the cuts, he also proposed an increase in the value-added tax from 17.5 percent to 20 percent. Imagine: a fiscal conservative who really is a fiscal conservative.
That could never happen here because the fairy tale of supply-side economics insists that taxes are always too high, especially on the rich.
This is why Democrats will be fools if they don’t try to turn the Republicans’ refusal to raise taxes on families earning more than $250,000 a year into an election issue. If Democrats go into a headlong retreat on this, they will have no standing to govern.
One so wants them to stand up to Republican stonewalling demagoguery, and fiscal fantasy. There have been so many disappointments and quasi-capitulations since January 2009. The stimulus was too small. A needed second round was stripped down to almost nothing. The public option was stripped out of the health care bill, which almost went down entirely. Limits on bank size did not make it into the FinReg bill. Through it all, progressives repeatedly, endlessly gnashed their teeth as Democrats in Congress seemed to teeter on the edge of total capitulation or paralysis. I myself wrote on the eve of Scott Brown's election, as Jim Webb moved swiftly to cut off one possible workaround, Senate passage of a merged bill before Brown took office,
We have one party that has not got the brains to govern. Will we now learn for certain that we have another party that hasn't got the guts?But we didn't learn that. And I'm tired of reading intimations that we did, or soon will. Democrats stared down a possible emerging electoral tidal wave and did the right thing anyway. And there is in fact no chance that the Democrats will let the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest expire. Obama, Pelosi et al do know a winning hand when they hold one.
The fact is, it is extraordinarily difficult for one party to govern when the other is entirely sunk in fantasy and demagoguery -- particularly in our nonmajoritarian system. It's a dangerous state of affairs. It's been noted over and over -- there is no one to compromise with. As Nancy Pelosi pointed out in the wake of the healthcare bill passage, the Democrats effectively incorporated Republican ideas and compromised with themselves -- the sound of one hand clapping.
On behalf of the 111th Congress, I am exhausted. And grateful.