Thursday, October 18 , 2018, 12:09 pm | Fair 70º

 
 
 
 

Mark Shields: Republicans Are Biggest Winners in Super Committee Failure

Gridlock over budget deficit doesn't bode well for the pro-government Democratic Party

You can make a case that the failure of Congress’ overhyped “super committee” to find common ground to reduce the federal budget deficit politically benefits the Democratic Party. After all, the one real point of public consensus on dealing with the deficits that emerged is voters’ agreement with President Barack Obama’s argument that the wealthiest taxpayers should pay higher taxes.

In addition, congressional Democrats can boast to their core supporters that barely a single silver hair on the sacred heads of Social Security or Medicare will be disturbed by the $1.2 trillion in budget cuts triggered by the super committee’s failure.

But this analysis ignores the most profound consequence of the latest failure from Washington. Because Democrats historically have been the party that believes government can be and has been an effective instrument for social and economic justice, gridlock and paralysis in the nation’s capital reinforce the Republican argument that government is not an answer, but instead, the problem.

Americans, not that long ago, did have confidence in the federal government. That confidence was earned through historic successes. How about the United States rebuilding a devastated and demoralized Europe after World War II and thereby saving millions from disease, starvation, slavery and death? A federal government that could conquer and eliminate polio and put a man on the moon while bringing electricity to the most remote, rural corners of the continent could be trusted.

The private sector and tax cuts did not protect endangered species, save the Great Lakes, reclaim America’s rivers or make American air cleaner. The U.S. government, headquartered in Washington, D.C., did. This same national government could end racial segregation and officially sanctioned discrimination through federal laws that guaranteed the right to vote, the right to stay in a hotel, to go to a movie, to eat a hamburger and, later, to buy a home in any neighborhood the buyer could afford.

In those halcyon days, seven out of 10 Americans trusted their government “to do the right thing” either “all” or “most of the time.”

But that, of course, was before Watergate and Vietnam, the savings and loan scandal, Enron, before wars launched to wipe out nonexistent “weapons of mass destruction,” before Wall Street larceny, Fannie Mae and taxpayer bailouts. And before unlimited money came to shadow American lawmaking and to dominate American political campaigns.

Not surprisingly, in this winter of national discontent, we have seen barely two out of 10 citizens trusting their government “to do the right thing” either “all” or “most of the time.”

If the government can’t do what it’s supposed to do, conservatives argue, then why — given the feds’ chronic inability or unwillingness to stop the flood of red ink in Washington — would you trust the government to do more?

So while the Democrats may have won last week’s rhetorical debating points over who was wrong in the super committee stalemate, the environment in which the 2012 campaign will be waged has become even more pessimistic, less confident, more distrustful and more hostile to government. That is a national environment in which a pro-government Democratic Party does not thrive.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.

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