Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Can Timing Trump Principle?

Joe Nocera argues in his column today that now is the time to have a real debate about the role of the Federal Government and its proper size.  It's hard to disagree with Nocera as a matter of principle.  We certainly do need such a debate.  I've contributed on this front with more than two cents worth, such as this piece on whether it is possible to have thoughtful conversation between Conservatives and Liberals.  But I'm not running for office.  Just because an analysis makes sense to me doesn't mean it would be well received by large chunks of the electorate.

Given the structural issues that do exist in the economy, it is much harder for Democrats to come to a reasonable alternative to the status quo because, invariably, some sacred cows will be gored in the process and parts of the Democratic coalition will then block certain reforms.  This, I believe, is the reason President Obama didn't ultimately support the recommendations of Simpson-Bowles.  Had he done so, he would have generated a lot of heat but not much light.  The Tea Party argument, in contrast, is simpler - gut a good chunk of what government currently does. There is the further issue that the addressing the structural deficit problem too soon will have the consequence of delivering a Keynesian stimulus in reverse.  The current sluggishness of the economy gives political cover to Democrats who don't want to trim Federal spending as a long term proposition. 

For these reasons I think Democrats need to have an internal debate first.  That will take sufficiently long that it won't conclude before the election.  So I would say put off the whole thing till after the election but go all in on trying to beat Romney-Ryan, because the consequences of them winning the White House would be dire. 


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