While some in Washington try to solve and others obstruct fixing our fiscal mess, we hear the liberal lament: “Our political system is broken because of partisanship.” This is untrue, even absurd. This argument tries to pit politics against principle. Democrats are using their own convoluted brand of partisanship, a cynical, feel-good version of “Can’t we all just get along?” after they already have stacked the deck against reform. They assert there is something wrong with the political system, rather than with their policies, when they don’t get their way. The political claim prevents discussion of the real problem the nation faces: insolvency. The liberal hypocrisy finally has been brought to trial.
The Democrats have been on an untenable political and economic course for decades, during which time they have claimed a moral high ground. Now they are astonished to find that the public no longer believes them.
Obviously, we need to protect those who cannot help themselves, and we need to make Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid solvent and safe, not only from bankruptcy, but from the crass media and political maneuverings of liberal politicians who claim to be the only ones who care.
The welfare philosophy that promises everything and delivers little but lowest-common-denominator living standards was born in the 1930s, during the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt. In that era, there was no bipartisanship. The Democrats controlled both the executive and legislative branches, and their congressional majorities were impregnable. They passed legislation implementing government programs that promised to remedy the economy’s deep-seated malaise and to save future generations from the poverty that grew inexorably in that decade. But the untenable programs of that era, still-burgeoning today, haven’t yet “solved” poverty. Nevertheless, it was a politically astute move.
The real American psyche in that time was based on the idea that the government owed an individual nothing more than opportunity and freedom of choice. People didn’t want handouts and welfare lines - that solution was anathema to the head-held-high view of every capable individual in America. They wanted only a chance to work. But the government checked the economy and took every wrong turn possible via false sentimentality and a thirst to use the power it held to gain a political foothold that would last for generations. It wanted beholden masses.
It was not as though there were no countervailing voices - voices that understood the human impulse toward achievement and the dignity of individual self-sufficiency. But partisanship ruled, and the calls for economic sanity were dismissed. In the long term, FDR’s policies led to a culture of dependency for the poor and an untenable public debt created by a political machine that bought votes with cynical parentalism.
During President Lyndon Johnson’s administration in the 1960s, bipartisanship was ignored again, and the Democrats rolled over both common sense and fiscal reality when they enacted Medicare and Medicaid but imposed no fiscal controls and offered no incentive to individuals to use those programs wisely. Forty-five years later, President Obama used the same majorities to impose his version of an ill-founded, mandatory health care system. In all three eras, the liberals had the power of numbers. Today, conservatives have the power of principle. It seems a fair fight.
The liberal economic and moral conflagration can only be resolved by an equal but far less cynical partisanship. The Tea Party reaction has risen with a view not toward politics, but founded on principle. Because liberals cannot dismiss principle on its merits, conservatism is attacked on a phony emotional level.
In spite of the efforts of the Democrats to convince us otherwise, the political system isn’t broken; it is working just fine, and the proof is in the electoral pudding. Republicans who embrace conservative principles are winning elections in record numbers, yet they are being accused of acting in their own political interest rather than the country’s. The opposite is the truth.
More to the point, Democrats and the conservative-Republican alliance are not fighting the same battles. Liberals want to maintain power; conservatives want to right what citizens see as wrong. The liberal call for bipartisanship - exemplified in the supercommittee debate - is not a policy. It is the last refuge of scoundrels who created this disaster in the first place. The Democrats took partisanship to an untenable extent that has created so many decades later the massive debt our children and grandchildren are expected to repay, while making it worse by denying a hearing of any rational solutions. Passing this burden to future generations is unconscionable.
The 2010 election resulted in an unprecedented shift of power, with 63 new Republican members of Congress (the fourth-largest political reversal in U.S. history), more than 700 new state legislators, and a change of control in more than 20 state legislatures. Intensive efforts in 2011 mounted by government unions to reverse conservative electoral and policy victories in Wisconsin, New Jersey, Indiana and other states failed because the public understands that today’s battle is not about partisan politics, it’s about the principles of sound economic and social investment.
But the question remains: Will the Republicans, guided by their conservative mentors, continue on a course of fiscal sanity and civic responsibility, whether after the 2012 elections they hold one house of Congress or gain the Senate and the White House? If they achieve their own majorities in Washington, will they effectively counterpunch both the Democrats’ defensive call for a mythical and self-serving bipartisanship and the liberal media’s political assault on honest economics and real freedom? Worse, will the Republicans, in a giddy state of political power, get so full of themselves that they overreach and forget why they are there? Will they foolishly conclude they can create their own political dynasty by petty attacks on legitimate, but currently irrelevant, targets such as National Public Radio or the National Endowment for the Arts?
Today, the nation’s single purpose is to bring back economic honesty and freedom of individual choice via responsible and responsive governing. If those who understand this need do not remain on a rational fiscal course, we will lose the coherent and sound momentum we have created. Jobs will remain scarce, our national security will be at risk, the quality of our health care will plummet as costs soar, and we will bequeath our children and grandchildren nothing but misery, debt, a perpetually empty Social Security “lockbox,” and the decline and destruction of an ideal - the United States of America - that is so worthy and so precarious. The electorate knows this is not about power, it is about principle. Can the political class comprehend and act on that reality?
Thomas N. Tripp is secretary of the American Conservative Union Foundation and author of “First Principles: Self-governance in an Open Society” (Black Sheep Farm Press, 2008).
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By John Solomon
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