Friday, January 18, 2013

Grand Bargain Basement

David Brooks writes:

Today is the last day of what we now must refer to as President Obama's first term, since we are well beyond the point where anything could prevent him from embarking on a second one, and it seems like a suitable time to take a break from my labors as America's premier public intellectual and pull one, old-school style, out of my ass, with political predictions for the next four years.
Photo by kk+ on Flickr. Some rights reserved. Via The Guardian.
It's an interesting time to hold an inauguration. You could think of it as the end of the Era of Bipartisanship because, although Democrats and Republicans failed to achieve any actual bipartisanship, I kept telling them they should, and I didn't hear anybody disagreeing. It was like something in the air. 
It all started with old Erskine Bowles and old Alan Simpson coming out of retirement to design the general format of a Grand Bargain of bipartisanship, in which Democrats would agree to the partial dismantling of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as a way to eliminate our potentially crushing annual deficit and Republicans would agree not to dismantle them any further even if it meant the whole yacht club would have to forgo the next round of tax cuts. Before you knew it Obama and John Boehner were working together on little bargains of their own, and America's great think tanks were applying all the tonnage of their collective brains to the question. 
I can hardly believe how good things looked back then, now that we're straggling blindly along the floor of Fiscal Canyon wondering how we ever got here from there, and the Smart People I socialize with are telling me that Grand Bargain time has slipped away, even though you can still get some pretty good deals for the Martin Luther King weekend. It's the incompetence of the political class that got us into this pickle, and they're hardly capable of pulling the kinds of sophisticated maneuvers for which Bowles and Simpson called. You might as well ask a bunch of fifth-graders to take over Estonia. Are you kidding? With their national debt? What we need is a new controlling narrative to explain to ourselves what we're going to be up to for the next presidential term. 
As long-time readers are aware, I take the view that policy should be serious rather than silly and government should be good rather than bad. I know bad-government types are all the rage these days, but that's just not how I roll. What I'd like to see is a kind of Simple English government, where it learns to express itself with a vocabulary of seven or eight hundred words, in crisp little one-verb sentences, before it moves on to any more advanced communications. So Congress should start making little tiny laws, just to get back into the habit, so they'll be ready to move once Marco Rubio is president in 2017. 
But serious as I may be, I wasn't born yesterday. People have become too partisan for one-step-at-a-time incrementalism. It's more likely that the Democratic majority will adopt the strategy I call "burn the fields, salt the furrows, kidnap the women, and kill whatever you can't use".  They'll be speaking in one of those big Safire-type monologues, and what they'll be saying is along these lines: 
"We may never see another moment like this again, my hearties. The Republicans are treading the shark-infested water, dazed and disoriented with the smoke and noise. Now is no time to lower the lifeboats and let them clamber in. So we'll have no whiggery and modesty and half-measures here: we're going to blow them away!
All-Story Weekly, November 2, 1918.
"First thing we do is chop up the narrative and feed it to the fish, because we need a new one. No more little homilies like in 2008 about how Washington is dysfunctional and both parties do it and the president needs to have cocktails with the speaker. The president isn't having cocktails with the speaker because the Secret Service is worried about poison! Or the speaker might undergo spontaneous combustion. 
"Anyway, the new story is that Republicans are worse than we are, and possibly insane. They don't believe in evolution, they don't believe in climate change, they think Thomas Jefferson was a Bible-believing Christian and Ronald Reagan was a trained economist. Or they pretend to believe it because that's what their voters expect. And all their campaign cash comes from huge, soulless corporations who don't care if they think all rape victims are liars, as long as it doesn't push up their tax bills. The media already halfway believe this story, I have no idea why, unless it's from seeing so many Republicans on TV, and independents might swallow it too. 
"And then different Republicans have a different threshold for how insane they're willing to look, and we can use that to divide them. The president's already started doing that: with the tax cut side of the fiscal cliff and the hurricane Sandy relief—he's smashed that stupid Hastert rule to smithereens. And gun control is next, where he's maneuvering the crazies into voting in favor of mass murder! Of first-graders! Fiendish, no? Bwahahaha! 
"And our secret weapon? The public! They like the president's program, when they can find out what it is. Even our own bankers won't be able to stop us. It's a bizarre strategy, but what have we got to lose?" 
It's a sad thing for democracy, when a majority party uses its popularity to put its program through as if that somehow made it better. It isn't the Washington I want to cover, but luckily I haven't been a reporter for decades, not since poor old Mr. Buckley took me under his wing. I could live in a world of my own, or maybe the humility business will take off...
Pirate Smiley Cookies.

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