Friday, August 24, 2012

If You Walk Down The Middle Of The Road...

...eventually you get run over.  That is the reality of our political system:  it no longer rewards compromise, cooperation, or comity.  It rewards fighting for your base.

David Brooks bemoans this of Paul Ryan:

Ryan’s fantasy happens to be the No. 1 political fantasy in America today, which has inebriated both parties. It is the fantasy that the other party will not exist. It is the fantasy that you are about to win a 1932-style victory that will render your opponents powerless. 

Every single speech in this election campaign is based on this fantasy. There hasn’t been a speech this year that grapples with the real world — that we live in a highly polarized, evenly divided nation and the next president is going to have to try to pass laws in that context. 

It’s obvious why candidates talk about the glorious programs they’ll create if elected. It fires up crowds and defines values. But we shouldn’t forget that it’s almost entirely make-believe. 

In the real world, there are almost never ultimate victories, and it is almost never the case (even if you control the White House and Congress) that you get to do what you want. 

While Andrew Sullivan bemoans this of Barack Obama.

The paradigm can still be shifted. Obama can say he didn't embrace the original commission because the necessary majority in the Congressional committee couldn't be rustled up. He can openly and rightly blame Ryan for torpedoing the sanest, most practical debt reduction we have on the table. He can tell his own party that they have to tackle entitlement spending and using the Mediscare tactic is not worthy of the constructive change Obama promised four years ago. He can even say he regretted not going out on a limb - but he thought a grand bargain could be reached through negotiation instead. GOP fanaticism stopped it.

The reason - incredibly - that Obama has not done this is a dislike of the big defense cuts and queasiness over muddying the Medicare issue against Romney. This shouldn't matter. What matters is that Obama should declare his first priority on being re-elected would be a grand bargain on the lines of Bowles-Simpson. Force Romney to say no. Isolate him on his tax extremism and defense spending boom. Show you're more serious on entitlement reform than Ryan's ideological fantasies - because you're backing the most credible, practical option available. Re-capture that sliver of the middle that wants to know what Obama wants to do in his second term. 

Both men argue their candidate can win by embracing the horrible Simpson-Bowles plan that would put the burden of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security squarely on the shoulders of the poorest Americans through sharply regressive taxes and draconian social program cuts.  Ryan won't raise taxes, he'd rather cut them on the rich.  The middle-class would lose.  Obama won't make those cuts, but he'll raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans.  The wealthy would lose.

But Simpson-Bowles is "everybody loses, enjoy your austerity instead".  The real losers would in fact be the poorest Americans, socked with gas and VAT taxes on food and clothing so they "pay their share" while the middle class would get that, plus losing all the tax deductions they're used to.  The net result would be the wealthy would indeed get that tax cut and come out ahead, although not as much as they would under Ryan.  But the rest of the country would get reamed.

Funny how that's the only way out for our Village Centrists.

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