Victor Davis Hanson has an excellent piece on citizen malaise. Entitled, "Season of Our Discontent," He describes a politically stale state of affairs here in the United States, where Republicans and Democrats alike, find themselves ensconced in bi-polar policy positions that leave most of us scratching our bald pates…
These conservative and liberal fantasies also paralyze solutions to budget deficits.Both parties arrived at these (and vastly more) internally diametrical positions, because American politics has transformed itself into a sophisticated variation of issue dancing, evermore discreet vote buying, and gymnastic “base” management. This is the natural result of “full opposition” politics.
True, Republican-endorsed tax cuts have led to more net federal revenue in 2005 than in 2001. Yet — even with the unanticipated costs of the 9/11 attack, the ongoing war and Hurricane Katrina — if the Bush administration had kept entitlement spending to Bill Clinton's levels (with small increases for inflation), we would today have a balanced budget and a small surplus.
Instead, 2001-2005 marked the wildest growth in nondiscretionary domestic outlay in our recent history. Even with an expanding economy, vast amounts of new federal income could not keep pace with even more vast expenditures.
So the valid Republican supply-side argument that tax cuts create more revenue meant little in balancing the budget. Equally irrelevant was the “starve the beast” notion that tax cuts would necessitate mandatory budgetary discipline — especially when many so-called conservative legislators proved fond of pork-barrel spending.
Now we are told by some free-marketers that a $400 billion annual budget deficit doesn't matter much — ignoring even the psychological depression that such borrowing does to a once-confident citizenry.
The Democrats, for their part, won't re-examine entitlement programs to ascertain which are not working or even counterproductive, such as agricultural and many education subsidies. Apparently, Democrats' future answer for the mounting debt will be the old calculus of substantial cuts in the military (at a time of war) and new tax hikes (that may cool the economy).
“Full opposition” politics is represented by the current yes/no, black/white, in/out discourse, and platform construction that both parties seem intent on perpetuating. It manifests itself with the idea that the other party is always, completely wrong. These types of definitive, contrarian stances, then force each party to be on the opposite side of an issue once the other party takes a public stand. This brings us to the types of situations that Victor outlines in his piece…incoherent stances on energy, government spending, Iraqi war, national debt, and the economy in general.
All of this can be attributed to the flaws in all democracies…the ever present potential for vote-buying, the distribution of the population along the ideological bell curve, the occasional focus on “single-issue” politics, and the fickleness of voters. As our two main parties vie for votes from election to election they play to all of these elements.
Vote buying can still be found in its pure form in many areas of the country, but it takes on a more sophisticated look when entitlement programs, pork, subsidies and protective tariffs come up to a vote.
The “single issue” focus has the effect of relegating most of the operational issues of the day, behind issues that prove immensely polarizing…further compounding the contrarian effect.
Continuous “base” maintenance of the fickle voting population has the effect of “jury rigging” for short term gains. This eventually proves to be unmanageable as parties are frequently peering at themselves from both sides of the same issue, and incoherency rules the day.
The culmination of these effects results in what VDH describes as “fatalism” and “frustration.” In spades.
VDH suggests it is frozen party leadership. He is partially right. The real problem stems from trying to capture The Far Left, The Left , The Center Left, The Right Left, The Left Right, The Center Right, the Right and the Far Right into two political parties. Without the flexibility of party members, this is an ideological impossibility. When ideology rules over party loyalty, in a two party system, chaos results. The Harriet Miers nomination serves as an illustrative example. In an effort to continuously win the “next” election each party has let 5-10% of their membership dictate their activity on some vital issues, hence causing these bi-polar effects.
Only when the parties come through with clear and coherent messaging, will this “frustration” and “fatalism” be transferred back to the 5-10% of the population where it should usually reside, not within the 80% where it currently is found.
Most of us don’t have to “win” on every issue, we just ask for a clear and vigorous dialog that results in laws and policies that make sense and advance our culture. What we don’t need, or want, is pandering to special interests and the mindless political wandering that results.