Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Not-so-great Divide

The polls had the American presidential election so close that the eventual winner remained a huge mystery through the final weeks, days and hours. That mystery has now been solved. The mystery that remains, though, is why anybody would actually want to be president—or for that matter in Congress—for the next four years.

Domestically and internationally, there are plenty looming crises that look problematic to resolve without angering or causing despair for or even endangering a lot of citizens. Of course, President Obama does not need to worry about ever running for office again, but the next four years look to be a true spiritual and psychic trial for any human leader, regardless of the political considerations.

So far, all the focus is on the so-called “fiscal cliff.” It’s hard to see how this gets dealt with except as yet one more stop-gap—simply because there is so little time to deal with it. And a more definitive solution will take more time than is available before the deadline.

But the “fiscal cliff” itself is really small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. Without major entitlement and tax reform, the country is on a trajectory toward fiscal insolvency. A bit of trimming of growth of federal spending and/or a simple four-percent tax increase on high earners will not fix that. And Obamacare, which is now on track for full implementation, will only add to the revenue/spending gap. When more consequences start occurring, like another credit rating downgrade or higher borrowing costs and/or inflation, it won’t be that much fun to be in government. Internationally, who knows what is going to happen with Iran and Israel as Teheran gets closer to having a viable nuclear weapon?

Frustratingly, the president has given precious little indication that he understands the problem or takes it seriously. The good news is that this impression is certainly more political calculation on his part than a reality. After all, he’s a very smart man. And, if we learned anything this week, we know that he has people around him who know how to count. Hopefully, they aren’t all exclusively campaign operatives.

So now that the American people have spoken, the politicians will now sort everything out, right? Well, as many pundits have been pointing out, after all the time and expense and energy and aggravation of the now concluded seemingly endless campaign, the political makeup of the government is barely changed. More than one wag has cited the old aphorism about the definition of insanity being doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. The difference now, though, is that harder deadlines are coming up, which tend to focus the mind. We can only watch and see how our representatives do.

Here’s something to ponder. The apparent lesson of the election is that the country has changed, that is has moved further left. This is undoubtedly true. Yet the same voters that gave the president a large Electoral College majority also chose a strong Republican majority for the House of Representatives. You can explain this up to a point by politicians’ tendency to draw incumbent-safe districts when they get the chance, but that doesn’t account for the Republican House dominance entirely.

There is a long history of Americans electing divided government. The usual explanation for this is that, ultimately, voters worry less about ideology than about keeping a check on the more extreme impulses of two major political parties. The problem now is that the country’s fiscal situation is getting to the point where the only viable solutions will necessarily be somewhat extreme.

No comments:

Post a Comment