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Party of Reform and the Kick-the-Can Party

The New York Times editorial that Jonathan referenced this morning is really quite an amazing document, a window into the utter policy bankruptcy of modern-day liberalism. It’s a classic example of the somebody-somewhere argument. Any change in entitlements or federal government largesse to states and cities, this argument holds, will mean that somebody somewhere will be hurt by the change and that therefore everything must stay the same, even though the world has not stayed the same.

To give just one example, the Times writes, “Mr. Ryan plans to take away their new sewage treatment plant, the asphalt for their streets, and the replacements for retiring police officers and firefighters.” Why any of that is a federal responsibility I know not, but anyway, do we need as many, say, firemen as we have had in the past? The number of house fires has fallen by half during the last 35 years, thanks to better building codes, smoke alarms, the decline of smoking, etc. Firemen these days spend much of their time responding not to fires but to accidents and medical emergencies to which the police and EMS also respond. That’s make-work. Firemen are heroes, for sure, but fire departments are not WPA projects. They exist to fight fires, not employ firemen. Budgetary discipline forces governments to look for ways to do the job at lower cost. Is there any fat in government? Is there any water in the Pacific Ocean?  The federal government has 47 different job-training programs run by 9 different agencies. But the New York Times and the choir to which it preaches want none of it changed.

The blind defense of the status quo that so characterizes the left these days (and, indeed, has since Lyndon Johnson left the White House more than 40 years ago) has led us to the edge of a fiscal crisis of almost unimaginable proportions. Our main entitlement programs, Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security, are all operating in deficit, and those deficits will only get worse as the baby boomers retire and live substantially longer than their parents did, requiring more Medicare and more Social Security. The national debt is higher than it has been, relative to GDP, since the end of World War II. We have already lost our AAA credit rating and there are ever-mounting deficits as far as the eye can see under Obama’s proposed budget (unanimously rejected by Congress).

The people seem to understand that we need to change our fiscal ways to avoid disaster and have rewarded those who have advocated it and brought it about (see the 2010 congressional elections, the Scott Walker recall election, the popularity of Mitch Daniels in Indiana, Chris Christie in deep-blue New Jersey, etc.).

Paul Ryan has produced a plan to change our fiscal course. It balances cuts in federal spending with reforms that will mitigate the pain of these reforms. It take spending only back to what it was in 2008, not 1928, as the Times essentially argues. Mitt Romney chose the author of the plan and the leading Republican voice for budgetary matters as his running mate. Thus the Republican Party is now, inescapably, the party of budgetary and entitlement reform. It will win or lose on that issue November 6.

What is the liberal plan to address the impending crisis? Well, there isn’t one. When George Bush put forth a plan to reform Social Security in 2005, the Democratic alternative consisted, in its entirety, of the word “No!” They managed to block it. Social Security was still running surpluses in 2005. It is not now.

The liberal alternative to the Ryan reform plan, to the extent that there is one, is to demagogue all reform proposals, kick the can down the road and hope, like Dickens’s classic deficit financier, Wilkins Micawber, that something will turn up.

It won’t, and the sooner we begin what will be, to be sure, a painful process, the less painful it will be. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking on my part, but I think the people are way ahead of the chattering classes on this.


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