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Time for a Constitutional Budget

Steve thought he was being funny and original last week in suggesting that I get my own blog and call it the "The Ponzi Scheme" . . . so, o.k., maybe it was just a tiny bit funny.  But picking on my name, original?  It's about as original as the old saw that starts, "If I only had a nickel for every time" . . . and when it comes to ribbing me about my name, let's just say that with that kind of money I could move the debt ceiling all by myself. 

Anyway, I'll come right back at him with something that may be neither funny nor original . . . but it is practical and maybe, even, philanthropic.  It is not me, but Steve  who needs some kind of site to keep track of all his writing (e.g., Steve Hayward's "Making Hay"?) because if it weren't for Facebook, I could never keep up with him.  So, in the meantime as we await its debut, I'll just stay put here and try to make myself useful by pointing NLT readers in the direction of some of Steve's better posts (and more original thoughts) as even Steve's own massive powers of shameless self-promotion are no match for his output. 

I'll start with this:  Yesterday at NRO Steve addressed the question of what, if anything, was achieved in the big Washington budget drama over the weekend.  (Also not to be missed on this is the big debate there between Andrew Stiles and Andrew McCarthy -- Stiles says Boehner wins "big time" and McCarthy says "meh" . . . but there are too many links to list here in that on-going battle, so you'll have to look them up.)  Steve, on the other hand, mulls the thing over with an eye more to the big political picture and, of course, another eye on the possible pitfalls.  On the pitfall side of it, Steve counsels that the GOP has to be very wary of "phony" cuts--things like moving spending into the following fiscal year and calling it a cut.  That's a trick from an old playbook and, if anything is certain in these political times, it is that Dems will recur to old playbooks.  Steve calls upon the Reagan experience for evidence both of this scheme and of things that could shift the political momentum--which now seems to be swinging in the direction of the cutters--away from them and back toward the spenders.  There is solid advice in all of that and Steve is right to suggest that freshmen GOP members, especially, need to study this history (they can start by reading his books, of course).

But the more interesting observation, from my point of view, is in his last paragraph.  Steve picks up on this quote from an anonymous Democrat in a Sunday evening Politico story:

"The fundamental problem of the whole process is Democrats have zero ability to describe what our view of government really is. So basically all we do is defend the status quo against attacks from the right-wing fringe of the GOP."

Steve suggests the problem for the Dems is that they've got nothing new:  no new ideas, no new rhetoric--little more, really, than a stale defense of the status quo.  He rightly notes that, politically, this is a terrible place to be.  In electoral politics, this makes your side boring, dry and tired.  It doesn't motivate people to run out to the polls and it doesn't keep the troops in the mood to fight. 

Yet I'd suggest that Steve's suggestion about how the GOP should respond to this little bit of good political fortune is only half right.  He hearkens back to Reagan's mantra that "government is too big, and it spends too much."  And that's true as well as being a useful political/rhetorical weapon--as far as it goes.  But is he forgetting that in just the preceding paragraph he recalled the way that 1980s GOP leaders got rolled and reached their high water mark with meager cuts?  So this suggestion smacks a bit of offering to fight a fire that has been burning at least since the 1980s with the same extinguisher that wouldn't put it out 30 years ago . . . except maybe now the wind is blowing in the right direction.  Yet, even here, we get more of wish than a forecast to that effect.  Perhaps circumstances have changed since then; and perhaps they've changed enough to make this the right time to make old argument to better effect.

Fair enough.  But I propose a stronger response: instead of showing up with a 30 year fire extinguisher that has proven ineffective in smaller fights, let's show up with the 235 year old fire wall that--for all the damage it has suffered--remains the only time-tested means for shutting up Democrats--the principles of the Declaration and the Constitution.  In short, it is time to make the foundational and Constitutional argument.

I say this, in part, because of the quote to which Steve referenced us from the anonymous Democrat.  Whoever that Dem was, he said a mouthful.  But there's more than a surface reading required of his quote.  It's not that Democrats are physically or mentally incapable of making a case for their view of government--of course they can do that.  It's that they don't dare to do it out in the open for the voters to see.  They have never, really, done this in an honest way.  They don't dare, they have never dared, and as I have argued in recent posts--they rather scorn the attempt. 

What they do, instead, is to cloak their anti-constitutional view of government behind the skirts (and pantsuits) of the Constitution and its venerable champions.  They evoke the imagery and the sentiment of the Constitution and the Founding and, in their own inventive language, they speak of freedom and of rights and of "justice for all." But the truth is that they mean something entirely different from the sentiment they evoke.  They are for the Constitution on their own terms rather than on its terms--and they disdain the notion of "consent of the governed."  The more honest of the early progressives were explicit about their distaste for things American--particularly the Constitution.  But the most successful ones knew they had to make their arguments in a way that was more palatable to the average--and instinctively patriotic--voter.

I think it is high time that the GOP smoke Progressives and their Democratic mouthpieces out on these points.   If they think there is a better way for the American people to be constituted and better principles to live by than the ones articulated in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution, let them say so and let them try to defend their position before the people.  Let the work of politics, rightly understood, begin.
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A restoration of the status quo ante 1929 in political economy would be a rather more involved task than passing a constitutional amendment that would retrospectively legitimate social legislation (and a selection of commercial and health and safety regulations) enacted over the last 78 years. You had best articulate a set of normative principles of justice and positive understandings of social life that could be translated into a practical set of state-society relations and a division of labor between different components of the state. Invoking Mr. Jefferson's rhetorical exercises and Mr. Madison's legal handiwork is a sterile exercise. The positive law, including charters of government, will at best render operational a notion of the way things ought to be. It is not a source of those notions.

You may get your wish. It may take some time, but here is why you may be right. I was listening to Paul Ryan on a radio talk show about his Budget Plan. One of the things that he mentioned was that a few years ago he would have gotten nowhere with this plan. He attributes the support of the new GOP Freshman in the House who were determined to change things in D.C. Those were the people who helped him push through his budget plan. I would bet that in the next election cycle more of the "good ole DC cronies" will be removed and replaced with more of the NEW GOP Freshman who would be willing to take on a bold new idea like a Constitutional Budget. This would be a good thing.

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