Thursday, January 3, 2013

Obama's Crisis Politics

What will be the net result of President Obama's crisis politics?  Whether he does it by design or because that's who he is, the president seems to prefer to govern by periodic crisis rather than regular order.

Maybe he's a genius, for the best time for government to act is in an emergency, when people are more inclined to go along with the crowd.

The thing is, as Fred Barnes writes, that successful US presidents have usually governed by consensus.
President George W. Bush made bipartisan deals with Democrats on education, energy and, shortly before leaving office, the bank bailout known as TARP. President Reagan got together with Democrats on tax reform and Social Security. President Clinton reached agreement with Republicans on welfare reform, balancing the budget and Nafta's free trade. Mr. Clinton also negotiated reform of Social Security, a landmark compromise that died (before being announced) when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke.
But not President Obama.  He goes for I win, you lose.  Or he seems to.  Barnes says that this will come to bite him in the future.
 The essence of bipartisan deals is win-win: Both sides are satisfied, even if not elated. Mr. Obama's approach is that he alone gets to win. The approach worked, more or less, on the fiscal-cliff deal, but it won't produce the larger bipartisan agreements that Mr. Obama now needs.
But does the president need larger bipartisan deals?  What does the president want?

My guess is that he wants to lard up the budget with as much spending as he can to make the new level of spending the new place of departure for deficit reduction.

On that view, Democrats would deal with a new Republican president in 2017 on the notion that the balanced deficit reduction plan would be part spending, part taxes, based on the baseline of federal spending at 24 percent of GDP rather than 20 percent of GDP that obtained before the Obama years.

Maybe so.  But I like to look at this another way.  I like to think that the Democrats are in an impossible situation.  Their spending cannot go on forever, so at some point it will stop.  But Democrats cannot agree to spending cuts because their whole shtick is spending.  Cut spending and you are cutting your supporters off at the knees.  Cut your supporters off at the knees and they will cut you off at the knees.

That's why I think our current politics is a replay of the ante-bellum politics of the 1840s and 1850s.  The South was pushing slavery against the tide of history, getting more and more intransigent about it with every year.  They had to, because the Southern economy was built on the expansion of the very profitable plantation slavery.  They had hyper-partisan guys in the South back then just like the Angry Left of today.  Then it all fell apart.  After the Civil War the South was reduced to a century of curdled rage, and the people that lost out the most were probably the freed slaves.

Really, the situation today is not that different.  The welfare state cannot go on like this.  It is running out of money right now, and slowing the economy with its demands for transfer payments.  When it stops, the people relying on its benefits are going to be hurting, and the longer we put off reforms the worse they will suffer.

Why, you ask, would the Democrats do this to their supporters?  I go back to Joseph Schumpeter.  Democracy, he writes, is not the rule of the people, it is the rule of the politicians, professional election winners.  The only thing that matters for an elected politician is winning the next election.  You win elections not by what you do but by what you promise.

Politics is division: you win by promising loot to the voters.  Government is force: the winners force the nation to pay the loot to their supporters.

But there is a limit to division.  You might end up dividing the country into a civil war, for politics is civil war by other means.

And there is a limit to force.  As in killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Is that what President Obama's politics leads to?  Only time will tell.

1 comment:

  1. This is a very well-written article. I wholeheartedly agree. There are too many people collecting welfare who are able to contribute to society. Just go into Walmart the first of the month.