Thursday, July 16, 2009

The politics of funding stuff

I believe we've found the Obama weak spot with the American appetite for change: spending money. All the polls indicate that Obama is struggling to keep moderates in his camp with his borrow-heavy approach to problem solving.

This is understandable. Americans have had a healthy fear of federal deficits, which is good for the nation's long-term economic stability. And this fear will create political pressure on the Obama administration to compromise and moderate their grand plans to solve the nation's most crushing challenges. This in and of itself creates a dilemma: if the Obama administration doesn't get the blank check it wants to really solve the economic, health care, energy and ecological crises that it faces, then it can only make a dent in solving these problems. Making a dent is good, but it's not going to solve, resolve or dissolve these issues. Which means that Obama's moderate, even-handed approach to reconciliation might relegate him to being the "band-aid" President, which would be quite a letdown for those who felt he was the Change We Need.

But there is another more systemic political issue at hand as well: I spy a hypocrisy in our aforementioned healthy fear of deficit spending.

Where were the deficit hawks when the Republicans passed a half-trillion dollar Medicare plan? You remember that, right? The largest expansion of Medicare since its inception in 1965 was signed by Bush as he proudly crowed that he was fulfilling 'our nation's solemn promise to America's seniors.' This huge government program came right after Bush pushed out historic tax cuts that were roundly supported by Republicans (sans John McCain) -- a move that also created huge gaps in our federal balance sheet.

So, mums the word when our deficit spending is in the form of tax breaks, and when providing more big-government health care for seniors?

I thought we were all supposed to have a healthy fear of deficits. It turns out, we do, but that's not our ideology. Our ideology is partisan, not national. Democrats scream "deficits!" when Republicans talk tax cuts, Republicans scream "deficits!" when Democrats talk social programs. But, oddly, Republicans go a step further in hypocrisy as I see it when, merely six years ago, they drafted, signed, sealed and delivered a historic, expensive, socialized government-run health care program.