In the past couple of weeks, our system of government showed us against how well designed it is. The two parties played at brinkmanship the way they are supposed to. The confrontation helped clarify considerably what separates the two parties. It did so by showcasing the extremes inside the two parties. The so-called “tea party” Republicans want greatly enhanced fiscal restraint. Leftists in the Democratic Party want above all to punish the rich for their luck and/or for their talent. After a lengthy mano-a-mano, arm-wrestling bout, the moderates in both parties took control and a compromise was achieved. (As I had firmly predicted would happen in time or almost in good time.)
I know the compromise is a good compromise because the extremes of both parties express great unhappiness. As the House was passing the vote that sealed the deal, I spent a wonderful morning listening to the lefties on “Democracy Today.” They were announcing the end of the world as they do every morning but I could easily detect a special poignancy in their calls that is usually missing. Those people were hurting deep in their hearts because the compromise involved no new taxes. (Lefties love taxes as a second best to confiscation of goods and deportation of the kulaks to Siberia.)
At the same time, Rush Limbaugh, the clearest anti-statist voice in American was explaining on the radio how the compromise was a fraud and a dud. So, here again is the proof: When the main parties walk away pissed off, you know it was a good negotiation.
I was expecting it but I am surprised at the disappointment expressed among conservatives. True, we did not get a balanced budget amendment. (Incidentally, I am not sure I am for it, another story.) It’s not clear technically that the agreement will lead to absolute declines in federal spending or merely to a reduction in the rate of increase of spending. I too don’t like the fact that the debt ceiling rises immediately but that any spending reduction, absolute or relative, will be spread over years. Having listened to Judge Napolitano, the Fox News legal expert, I am also less than certain that today’s Congress can legally bind any future Congress. There are plenty of causes to assess the current agreement as giving me less than everything I wanted. However, this is not Christmas and people like me control only a fraction of one of the three decision-making bodies. What do you expect, I ask?
How can I feel good when I wanted a six-course meal and I was served only an appetizer, you ask?
The answer is that the activist conservative minority of this country had won the last partial election with one clear message and several much smaller ancillary messages. The big message was this: The federal government is too big and it’s too expensive. (Note that the two statements are only partially overlapping: I might find the Federal Government inexpensive and still think it’s too big, for political reasons, for moral reasons, in the end.)
In July 2011 and in the first two days of August, the most conservative wing of the Republican Party succeeded in doing something I never saw in my life, something that I did not not think could be done:
The agreement transformed radically the general framework of the American political discourse. In the past few weeks, it went from: “What new taxes do we raise, what new tax do we devise to help what long suffering and deserving groups?” to: “How are we going to reduce federal spending?”
The national conversation on deficit spending is finally on-track. Note that I am not dead-set personally about deficit spending. I just think we need to have the broadest possible talks about it.
The loud partisan debate preceding the agreement drew the churlish and ignorant condemnations of the many media commentators who don’t understand democracy (plus the crocodile tears of some members of Congress who may not understand it much better). To my mind, the debate had big educational merits. I know for a fact that it brought to the attention of several people I know the fact that the feral government normally operates on borrowed money. I was not aware that it is not the case that everyone in America knows this. I was wrong or naïve. Two of those people are 18 year-old college freshmen. Those two guys are going to vote in the next election. Instead of being delivered hogtied to the ear-rape of their liberal professors, they will enter their sophomore year with an important piece of knowledge about our government. Don’t take this kind of advancement for granted. After 25 years of exposure to college sophomores, I surely don’t.
If you are a conservative and you don’t rejoice at the fact that the conversation has finally switched to the topic that interests you, if the incidental education the debate has provided doesn’t please you, you are just a sore winner.
If you are a liberal that has stumbled on this blog, don’t start sobbing, after the habitual manner of liberals. Tell yourself that Rush Limbaugh was loudly angry this morning. Anything that pisses off Rush Limbaugth has got to be a victory for you, at least a partial victory.
And here is something you did not read here, that you did not hear from me, not at all: The agreement to raise the debt ceiling has not forestalled a reduction the the federal government’s credit rating. That was an obamesque red herring all along. The US was not going to default, or not for long. The credit rating agencies know their job. They know full well that the markets are less worried about some politically determined debt ceiling than about our government’s indebtedness in genera. They are familiar with the idea that many investors know that the US federal government owes about as much as the whole American economy produces in one year. (This number is good enough for most purposes and it’s easy to remember.)
Update: In one of my recent blogs, I talked about the “46%+” who don’t pay federal income tax. A stranger on Facebook assured me that the figure had been debunked a long time ago. Very politely, I asked him for references. He told me he would look for them. The next day, I re-iterated my request. The stranger vanished from the relevant Facebook free-for-all. That’s how I find liberals argue, par for the course, so to speak.