Thursday, November 11, 2010

Quick Thoughts on the Politics of the Deficit Commission

What are the reactions out of the gate? Clearly, the most significant thiing to happen is a split on the left: Nancy Pelosi & Paul Krugman have denounced the Commission proposal; President Obama has asked everyone (particularly his own party) to hold fire and give the proposals a chance. Although he did not endorse the plan, he did give a nod to the need to address this issue in a serious way: "If we are concerned about debt and deficits, then we're going to have to take actions that are difficult, and we're going to have to tell the truth to the American people." The New York Times editorial accepted the proposal as a good starting point for discussion of the issue.

So, if a fissure has been formed between liberal politicians and pundits on one side & President Obama and the NY Times ed board on the other, you know the left has deeper problems on this issue than the right. And that is not a surprise. The position of the left appears to be that we should maintain current or greater entitlement spending inperpetuity and either pay for this by running up unfathomable debt or by entirely through taxes on those who make more than $250,000. In a more egalitarian society, (say, Denmark), this might be the right answer, but in the current day United States -- it is a pathway to electoral marginalization.

There are many on the right that will denounce even a discussion of taxes -- like Grover Norquist -- so the right will have its problems as well. But having made reduced government spending the core issue of the last campaign, and having an Obama created Commission proposing large scale spending cuts, Republicans risk being written off as total hypocrites if they reject this out of hand. Which is perhaps why we are not seeing the same reaction by them as we are among Democrats.

The fascinating issue for Obama is --does he go for a bold move on this topic, assert leadership, and show himself to be the big ideas person he believes he is, even if that means risking a Democratic primary challenge? The last three presidents that faced serious primary challenges (Ford, Carter and Bush the Elder) all lost in the general election.

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