With the latest election, the GOP has swept to power promising massive cuts in the size of government. Voters seemed to like the message, but will they be so thrilled when it's time to cut anything? Frank Rich thinks there might be some issues:
Were they to listen to Americans, they’d learn that they favor budget cuts mainly in theory, not in fact. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll this summer found that three-quarters of Americans don’t want to cut federal aid to education — high on the hit list of most fiscal hawks — and more than 60 percent are opposed to raising the Social Security retirement age to 70. Even in the Republican-tilted electorate of last week, exit polls found that only 39 percent favored extending the Bush tax cuts to all Americans, including those making $250,000-plus. Yet it’s a full Bush tax cut extension that’s the entirety of the G.O.P. jobs program in 2010. This will end “uncertainty” among the wealthiest taxpayers, you see, and a gazillion jobs will trickle down magically from Jackson Hole.
Obama has a huge opening here — should he take it. He could call the Republicans’ bluff by forcing them to fill in their own blanks. He could start by offering them what they want, the full Bush tax cuts, in exchange for a single caveat: G.O.P. leaders would be required to stand before a big Glenn Beck-style chalkboard — on C-Span, or, for that matter, Fox News — and list, with dollar amounts, exactly which budget cuts would pay for them. Once they hit the first trillion — or even $100 billion — step back and let the “adult conversation” begin!
I would absolutely watch that. Slashing the National Endowment for the Arts isn't going to get you very far, is it?
As a bit of foreshadowing for what the country might be arguing about for the next two years, the election for Alaska's senate seat hinged on hypocrisy, with one of the most entertaining races in years:
The [Republican] party's official candidate, Joe Miller, campaigned as the candidate for the Alaska of would-be rugged individuals. But although he was endorsed by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Express, Miller proved an exceptionally poor choice for this role. He said all the right things about fiscal insanity, the repeal of Obamacare, lower taxes, and slashing welfare spending. But like many of his comrades in arms, he gave no specifics and offered no plan for how to reach that fiscal sanity or how to replace Obamacare. During the course of the campaign, it also emerged that he had once collected farm subsidies; that his wife had once collected unemployment benefits; and that his family had received state health benefits. Perhaps it's just hard to avoid feeding from the federal trough in Alaska.
The [Republican] incumbent and write-in candidate, Lisa Murkowski, represented Alaska as federally funded paradise. The scion of a political family, Murkowski had no need for hypocrisy. "I will not apologize for seeking federal funding for Alaska," she declared, when relaunching her campaign. She pointed out that her senatorial seniority gives her a higher rank on committees that dispense money. She talked up her friendship with the late Sen. Ted Stevens, whose ability to send cash to Alaska was legendary.
As of this writing, Murkowski appears to have won.
Of course, this double standard is not news. It's pervasive in American culture, as Anne Applebaum observed back in July on Slate:
Americans—with their lawsuit culture, their safety obsession, and above all their addiction to government spending programs—demand more from their government than just about anybody else in the world. They don't just want the government to keep the peace and create a level playing field. They want the government to ensure that every accident and every piece of bad luck is either prevented or fully compensated. And if the price of their house drops, they will hold the government responsible for that, too. …
Look around the world and we don't seem as exceptional as we think. Chileans are willing to save for their own retirement. Most Europeans are reconciled to the idea that not everybody, at any age and in any condition, is entitled to the most expensive medical technology. A secretary of state or defense traveling with dozens of cars and armed security men would seem absurd in many countries, as would the notion that the government gives you a tax break if you buy a house, or that schools should close if there is ice on the roads. Yet we not only demand ludicrous levels of personal and political safety, we reserve the right to rant and rave against the vast bureaucracies we have created—democratically, constitutionally, openly—to deliver it.
And if you think that this doesn't affect everything, you should set aside a half hour to listen to this excellent piece of reporting from NPR's Planet Money podcast about the decade-long trade war between American and Brazilian cotton farmers. In it, you'll hear a very nice farmer from Texas bitch about cotton farmers from Brazil, seemingly completely unaware that massive government payments to American cotton growers are a huge reason that he's competitive in the global market. And it gets stranger, because as of this year we're also subsidizing Brazilian farmers. Really. Give that podcast a listen.
So, will Republicans have any clever ideas? Or will they find that it's not so easy to please an electorate that shamelessly wants to have it all?
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