Thursday, September 23, 2004
One of conservatism's critiques of democracy is that the people might realize they can vote themselves other people's money (i.e. rich folks). Well it turns out that they were almost right, only it is not the people but conservatives who will tax others to their benefit. And it's not the rich who pay the price tag: it's the future. Of course, the NYT still finds a way to blame the Democrats.
I am a fiscal conservative. Not one of those newfangled types who like tax cuts and ignore deficits. But the old-fashioned sort that thinks you should only spend money that you have. To me it's a moral question. Permanent structural deficits are only acceptable when the people who will have to pay the money back are receiving the benefits. So if you want to borrow money to build a bridge or a school, that's fine. But if you want it for a tax cut or to write retirees a check, that is intergenerational warfare.
Some might say I am really picking a fight with liberals, since many of them are bothered by the Democratic deficit hawks. I think the differences are really quite narrow: they want to spend money on social programs targetted to kids, and so do I. That's human investment spending, to borrow a Clintonism. But I do fall into the camp that thinks that the growth of entitlement of spending is a problem. With the aging of the population, we are fewer workers supporting more retirees. The ratio of workers to retirees used to be 15-1, now it's 3-1, and it's going to 2-1. Given that U.S. incomes have stagnated, we are looking at massive tax increases on workers with declining incomes.
Our politics need to be clarified. Democrats are NOT the big spenders, Republicans are. The deficits shrank under Clinton's policies (enacted BEFORE the Republicans took the Congress), and they have increased steadily under the last three Republican presidents. Conservatism has simply abandoned fiscal discipline. This has yielded them short-term political benefits at the price of compromising the future of our economy and corrupting our politics. They are demagogues, pure and simple. Their political message is the most depraved imaginable: have a free lunch, and make your kinds foot the bill.
As usual, I think Democrats should straightforwardly confront the issue. Yes we will have to finesse some of the details or present the Republicans with an easy target (they want to cut your medicare!). However, the Democrats can get a lot of mileage among independents and moderate Republicans if they can enunciate a clear position. I think the key is to connect the deficit to the general problem of the recklessness, ruthlessness, and incompetence of the Bush Administration.
The most effective political ad this year was the first move-on ad. We must learn from that, and act accordingly.