The Sphinx in Egypt is famous for having had the sands of time erode away his schnozzle. William Voegeli
suggests that the Sphinx of Pennsylvania Ave., in addition to losing his proboscis, appears to have plenty of sand in his eyes and in his mouth. How else to explain President Obama's refusal to make it plain that the situation we now face will require a choice and that the choice he prefers--continued and massive federal outlays on programs he and his base deem essential--will require tax increases; and not just on that elusive category of "the wealthy"?
Of course, there is an alternative understanding. As Voegeli puts it:
This Sphinx of Pennsylvania Avenue routine, from a politician hailed
just three years ago as an orator so compelling he would have driven
Pericles into the tunic-wholesaling business,
is the result of a political dilemma: Liberalism is much more
forthcoming on the question of what the government ought to do than it
is about how the government should pay for all its programs.
Bingo! Yahtzee! Survey says: Ding, ding, ding! So of course there is a natural reason to explain this Liberal reticence: there are more people who want good things than there are people willing to foot the bill for them. In other words: generating enthusiasm for higher taxes is a tough sell. Just ask Walter Mondale.
On the other hand, it's no picnic to try and sell a cutback on the free goodies. Everybody loves Santa Claus. No one admires the penny pincher until it is almost too late for it to matter. Paul Ryan's "Path to Prosperity" is going to feel more like a tight shoe to most voters than a florid and inspiring promise of possibilities.
Even so, as Voegeli points out, Ryan's plan has got one big thing going for it: its honesty. And in that honesty, Voegeli thinks, may be the power--if not to achieve its immediate objectives--at least to place the conversation upon a more rational plane. The hard part will be in getting people to understand that tight shoes beat no shoes; but, really, this is not a difficult concept to grasp when it's snowing outside. In making this attempt, Ryan is forcing Obama's hand. The biggest problem with the Obama team's routine is that it is intellectually dishonest and this is becoming increasingly plain to the voters. Paul Ryan isn't promising us a rose garden. But he does give us some pretty good tips about the right way to till and cultivate one.