Tuesday, November 8, 2011

It Isn't Always The Politicians' Fault

We are often quick to blame political stagnation, the failure to address obvious problems and gimmicky solutions that kick the can down the road on politicians. And yes, they do deserve blame for not telling their constituents inconvenient truths. But ultimately, the core responsibility for the situation rests with the citizens.

We are seeing this in Europe. We are seeing this here. For decades, citizens have been demanding lower taxes and greater governmental services and benefits. Economic growth made this possible for a time. As growth slowed down, these dual aims were achieved by large scale accumulation of debt. The bills are now coming due. The reaction of the citizenry - both here and across the pond -- is to blame others. It is the government's fault for not coming up with pain free solutions. It is the banks' fault for extending us debt we could not possibly repay. It's the unions. It's big business. It's the IMF.

Politicians that attempt to address reality, instead of catering to the voters' desire for an extension of fantasy, are punished - either in opinion polls or the ballot box. Obama tried to rein in some Medicare expenses in his health care reform bill -- seniors clobbered Democrats in 2010. Paul Ryan proposed to change the way we pay for Medicare -- the Republicans lost a safe seat and congressional leaders had to shelve his plan. Republicans demanded severe budget cuts as a price for extending the federal debt limit -- Congress' popularity has plunged to single digits. Large scale defense cuts are on the table for the first time -- they are wildly unpopular.

If voters are unwilling to accept that sacrifices are going to need to be made (by them, not just by other voters), then why should we expect politicians, who need to get elected by these folks, to tell them otherwise? A couple of weeks ago, David Brooks suggested that Obama needed to take his Grand Bargain plan to the country -- with higher taxes, cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits, lower defense spending, and cuts to other popular social programs. As reasonable as this seems, as much as it would show Obama to be a visionary leader, as much as I personally would admire Obama for taking this step -- my gut instinct is that it would be an electoral disaster. Where is the Republican candidate telling seniors they will have to live with less and that everyone will have to do without their Bush-era tax cuts? Maybe the real reason Mitch Daniels didn't throw his hat in the ring is that he knew he couldn't run on the truth.

No comments:

Post a Comment