Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Nice goin', John

After an election that was supposed to be about returning "fiscal sanity" to Washington, our new House Speaker was unable, when pressed, to come up with a single example of a government program that needs to be cut.
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You are surprised? What we have been watching has been the failure of every component of the political class to honestly and intelligently address the problems in the country's political economy. The notable exceptions have been Paul Ryan & c., Sheila Bair, and Dr. Bernanke (lately the subject of much abuse). Welcome to Argentina.

I am surprised. I'm surprised because it is a question he should have been prepared to handle with something, some blurby, obvious response. Heck, when he spoke in Cleveland months ago he actually had a response to that kind of question and his local-business-leader audience loved it. Maybe he doesn't want to be contentious right now. That's too bad.

Meh. You might be reading too much into this, John. Let's imagine he had named ONE . . . then THAT becomes the story, right? The question was something of a trap--even if the questioner was generally sympathetic. Boehner may be exhibiting a kind of forced discipline here. I am sure he can name many more than one program . . . but keeping everyone's eyes on the big picture is where the debate is going to be won right now; not in the tall grass of specific programs that may have vocal and excitable advocates who can distract us and spin the debate if they get singled out in this way.

I'm not saying I'm certain that is what was going on here . . . but it's a charitable interpretation that, so far, Boehner has conducted himself in such a way as to deserve.

The man cannot keep on spinning forever. Eventually, the cleaver is going to have to fall and those constituencies are not going to be any less attentive and vocal than they are now.

"Let's imagine he had named ONE . . . then THAT becomes the story, right? The question was something of a trap--even if the questioner was generally sympathetic."

Wow, you must have taken that one straight from your Sarah's playbook. Here, I'll look it up for you:

"Questions asking for specific ideas to elaborate upon banal generalities and lofty, amorphous principles are "gotcha" questions and certainly of the devil, possibly leading to blood libel, so watch out! When left clueless by a completely legitimate and fair question - even if made by a sympathetic interviewer - offer an incomprehensible answer, a promise to "get back to ya", or just offer no answer at all and act as though that's a reasonable and standard response."

I didn't see the interview, but I'm wondering if Boehner employed one of his favorite techniques: tears. A big, heavy stream of manly tears.

That is true--but then they will be in plenty of company. It won't be about ONE program, but several. There certainly will be many pity parties to attend and the media's dance card will be full. But the public's attention will not linger too long on any of them.

See Conrad Black's recent remarks in National Review on the performance of the political class over more than 20 years.

Fair enough, but I am still skeptical.

There are lot's of barnacles on the ship placed there by long departed members of Congress that have remained due to inertia (one suspects) more than anything else. Is the ghost of Claiborne Pell really so intimidating that the words 'national endowment for the arts' could not issue from Mr. Boehner's lips?

I run through the budget for the most recent fiscal year completed and I locate a baseline of about $500 bn of expenditure that could be replaced with a negative income tax, replaced with general revenue sharing, or excised entirely. My standards are not exacting in comparison to (say) Redwald's standards. Mr. Boehner has a great deal with which to work if he so chooses. Tax increases will be necessary as well (if you do not apply Redwald's standards).

I honestly think that making the NEA the focus of media attention right now would have done more harm than good--even though there is general public support for cutting it out. The media--who do not support this--would find a way to insist that this public sentiment is dumb and get people to second guess themselves. The easier sell, right now, is the cost rather than the unworthiness of programs. That may not mean that it is the highest or most noble approach to the debate. But it may be the most prudent way to approach it unless or until arguments like that can be relied upon to resonate. Contra Obama, the GOP needs to come at the budget NOT so much with a scalpel but a hacksaw if we mean to stay solvent. This is the beginning of a high toned conversation about the limits of government . . . but not, of course, the end of it.

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