"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."
— Dorothy, to her little dog in "The Wizard of Oz"
green as we look forward to St. Patrick's Day. But instead of an
emerald isle, I keep seeing an Emerald City.
tempting to overdo the Oz analogy, with President Barack Obama as
the illusory Wizard and his majority voters as the brain-challenged
scarecrow, but I'll let it go for now.
we get here? A year ago, our nation's primary fiscal concern was the
coming "entitlement crisis," as more and more boomers become
eligible for the unfunded entitlements of Social Security, Medicare
and Medicaid. The National Taxpayers Union sent me an information
packet containing warnings from opposite sides of the political
spectrum, the Heritage Foundation and the Brookings Institution.
warned that the "Social Security Trust Fund" cannot be trusted after
2017, and that Medicare will begin running a deficit in 2010. The
conservative Heritage Foundation writes in its March 2008 "Backgrounder"
report that by 2050, to cover these programs and Medicaid, "Congress
would need to raise taxes permanently by the equivalent of $12,072
per household or eliminate every other federal program."
conservatives acknowledge that we can neither "grow our way out" nor
eliminate enough waste to solve the debt problem. The liberals
acknowledge that raising taxes is not the solution: "Taxes would
have to be raised continuously and would eventually cripple the
both warn that "neither the government nor the public is facing up
to the hard choices that have to be made if the country is to
continue to prosper and meet its obligations at home and abroad."
that was then and this is now. No one faced up to any hard choices
during 2008 and concerns about the Big Three entitlement programs
seem almost quaint today.
Taxpayers Union has been fighting to control deficits for as
long as I can remember; it was joined by the Concord Coalition in
1992. Despite their best efforts, the national debt is presently
$10.9 trillion — before the impact of the Bush and Obama bailouts
and stimulus packages, before the new $3.6 trillion Obama budget,
before the many unfunded government liabilities must be funded.
we get here? When I ask the question, Republicans usually go back to
FDR or Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, with a little break in
momentum from Ronald Reagan. Democrats note the reduction of the
deficit by Bill Clinton. Republicans counter that this was the
result of reduced defense spending between the Cold War and the new
War on Terrorism.
this is part of the answer, but I also think about the argument that
"deficits don't matter," which came originally from the Keynesian
left, but was most recently stated by Vice President Dick Cheney as
the Bush debt accumulated. This phrase also seems to have been a
policy of people called neo-conservatives, whom Pat Buchanan defines
as "Big Government Conservatives," who support interventionist
foreign policy, increased social spending, and illegal immigration
no matter how these affect the national debt. Clearly, this policy
is oxymoronic as well as moronic in general.
political partners Chip Ford and Chip Faulkner look back to the
failure of the 1994 Gingrich Revolution, when Republican activists
gained control of Congress, and the opportunity to downsize
government was seized, then dropped.
Norquist of Americans
for Tax Reform, who helped engineer this revolution, fights on:
He has expanded his "Leave us alone" center-right coalition to urge
major spending reforms.
Republicans took control of the presidency, House and Senate. Some
of us eagerly (naively?) awaited the initiation of longtime
Republican goals — a balanced budget constitutional amendment, the
flat tax, school choice, a supermajority required for tax increases,
sunsetting of government programs, and my personal favorite, the
elimination of income-tax withholding. Alas, these goals were
apparently more fun when they were unattainable.
Democrats, of course, were no help at all in creating fiscal
we were all distracted by 9/11 and the War on Terror, but certainly
it is harder to defend a nation that is deeply in debt, much of it
owed to foreign countries.
we get here? Chip Ford thinks it is a longstanding organized
conspiracy to make Americans part of a New World Order, in which
freedom is sacrificed for the elitist domination of something called
the Liberal Agenda. He sees the neo-cons as part of that conspiracy.
there is a Liberal Agenda, which I've been fighting my entire adult
life. But I've seen it mostly as an annoying bunch of foolish
dreamers and greedy Big Government/Big Business/Big Labor leaders,
none of whom worry about the long-term effects of their demands or
the law of unintended consequences. Reform liberals, like "old
conservatives" who are deficit hawks, are not part of this Agenda.
must be aware that there are dangerous people who want power for the
sake of power, who don't want to "leave us alone," and who are
getting more traction from the current economic meltdown. We need to
find our brains, our heart, our courage, and resist.