A country that loses its values, its principles, has lost its heart. A country that loses its sensible center, its common ground, has lost its mind.
Sunday, December 30, 2012
Cliff chaos exposes our hyper-partisan folly
ICYMI: Here is my Sunday column ...
These are heady days for political centrists and moderates as the impending fiscal cliff has jolted the nation — and many lawmakers on Capitol Hill — into a panic-stricken full embrace of the middle ground.
The language of the sensible centrists suddenly seems to be everywhere: bipartisan, non-partisan, compromise, pragmatic, meet in the middle, common sense solutions, stop the gridlock, end the hyper-partisanship, a balanced approach, give and take.
While centrists, moderates and especially independents were derided in recent years as political vanilla, fence-sitters, RINOs, corporatist Democrats, and unprincipled and uninformed, their definition of governing as a problem-solving exercise has now taken hold from coast to coast. For all you fringies (my word) on the left and right, welcome to the real world. Welcome to the mainstream where problems are solved minus rigid ideology, and there are no cans to kick down the road.
“Told you so” would be a proper response for those who have occupied the middle ground for many years.
The consequences of purist hyper-partisan ideology is now on full display in Washington. And the polls show that the nation’s overwhelming conclusion is that Congress is comprised of self-important, stubborn fools. The idea of letting the U.S. go over the fiscal cliff was recognized as a suicide mission just weeks ago, during the presidential campaign. As I write this, it appears that a reckless cliff dive by our un-esteemed lawmakers seems likely. Meanwhile, the president and Congress — most egregiously the House — have been on vacation casually flirting with disaster. The public’s eyes have been opened to a Democratic Party that unrealistically labels entitlement programs as untouchable and a Republican Party that’s delusional in it’s pledge to never raise taxes.
In a move that exposes Congress as a shamelessly dysfunctional, irresponsible gang, the leadership of both parties appears to be focused on finger pointing, posturing and positioning that allows for assessing blame on the other side on Jan. 1. Worse yet, nothing that’s currently “on the table” will make a sizeable dent in our long-term national debt.
This is Washington’s version of the ultimate theater of the absurd. I’d give it four stars.
While the sharply divided Congress’ public approval rating has hovered below the 20 percent mark for more than two years, our self-centered lawmakers engage in a political limbo contest: How low can you go? I suspect those who will come out of this self-inflicted chaos with a new luster are the centrist political groups that are not necessarily bipartisan or non-partisan – they’re anti-partisan. That includes No Labels, the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Concord Coalition and the Third Way. These organizations have served , below the media’s radar, as the canary in the coal mine as Washington’s dysfunction became increasingly apparent.
They have advocated, for months and years, detailed policies that would improve government efficiency and effectiveness without damaging middle class taxpayers, seniors or the poor.
There are reasonable ways to reduce Medicare costs without chopping benefits for current recipients. There are common sense methods of trimming long-term Social Security expenses without imposing a significant sacrifice on retirees. There are pragmatic ways to cut defense spending without jeopardizing homeland security. There are judicious approaches to reforming the federal tax code that will produce more revenues in a fair way and won’t damage the economy. Until now — while we’re at the cliff’s edge — who has been listening? Certainly not the fringies in Washington and across the country who refuse to cast aside their blinders and take a fresh look.
Liberal Democrats need to accept the formulation of a protected fund that sets aside new revenues for a pay-down on the deficit and national debt. And the GOP must come clean with what budget cuts they want on discretionary spending – that area of the budget that excludes Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the Defense Department. With just days until the cliff deadline, it’s clear that we will see no “grand bargain,” no big, balanced plan like the Simpson-Bowles approach. What Congress is likely to produce in the next few days or, more likely, in January when the forthcoming public outrage and stock market slide hits, will be a fraud. And I think we have all had our fill of fraudulent actions in Washington.
Maybe those strident ideologues who refuse to govern will finally realize that, when you tip-toe around the cliff’s edge without a parachute spouting your slogans and your bumper-sticker mantras, that hot air is just enough of a breeze to send you over the edge — and all of us with you.