"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Which Way Has the Debate Really Shifted?

Politico, a left-leaning political website, today suggests that liberals are angry because the debate over the debt ceiling has shifted the national discourse to the right so that we are now talking about cutting spending and restraining our debt, rather than talking about progressive policies (national health care, higher taxes on the wealthy, etc.):
For the moment, most Democrats are a lot more united than Republicans on the debt debate. But they are increasingly restive as they balance loyalty to Obama and their commitment to preserving entitlement programs and tax equity, core principles they see as being chucked overboard in the interest of appeasing tea party Republicans.
Even the least painful resolution to the crisis — a plan backed by Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that is a cocktail of deep cuts in discretionary public spending and infrastructure improvements without a whiff of the tax-the-wealthy agenda that has been a staple Democratic demand — is poison to many progressives.
“Every policy outcome for liberals is a loss at this point,” a senior party operative said, reflecting the prevailing view among progressives that the alternatives mulled by Obama in the debt talks range from the awful to the unthinkable.

“We may win on the politics,” the operative said, “but the policy battle is lost. It’s just depressing.”
I think this may be true in the short-term.   Right now we're talking about cutting spending, at least in theory.   But, in the long term, the new baseline for the budget appears to be somewhere around the $3.8 trillion level, where just ten years ago we were at $1.8 trillion.   We've entered the realm of the permanent stimulus, the permanent 25% of GDP federal government.   The Era of Big Government is not over; the Era of Big Government has simply become the new normal.
In other words, the debate has shifted, but it's shifted inexorably further and further toward normalizing the idea that big government at all levels represents an untouchable, permanent reality. 

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