Who wants a fantastic job? Unemployment is high, so there ought to be many candidates. The job is leader of the Republican Party.
As leader, you will be the spokesman for a philosophy of smaller government, more individual liberty, fiscal responsibility, free markets and budget cuts. You will speak up for the traditional family and strong community organizations.
On one hand, you stand for keeping taxes low on the very richest Americans. On the other, you’re for cutting programs that are broadly popular. Congratulations. What are you for that Americans support? That’s what is so great about this job. It requires creativity.
A sizable percentage of your caucus will balk at any increases in taxes ever on anyone — even on those earning more than $1 million per year — as John Boehner just discovered. So you’ll have to seek balanced budgets exclusively by cutting spending. This will further confirm the public image of you as Scrooge.
Your job is to worry not just about the fiscal cliff, but about the $71.7 trillion in unfunded liabilities the federal government has amassed, the unchecked expansion of entitlements, such as Medicare, Medicaid and now Obamacare, the waning percentage of Americans in the workforce (it’s down to 63.6 now, compared with 67.2 in 2001), and the decline of traditional families which is, in turn, creating more and more Americans who become dependent on government programs.
Your opponents are the Democrats, who tell voters that they care and simply want to give them more and more. P. J. O’Rourke memorably described the difference between the parties this way in Parliament of Whores: “God is a Republican and Santa Claus is a Democrat.”
God is an elderly or, at any rate, middle-aged mate, a stern fellow, patriarchal rather than paternal, and a great believer in rules and regulations. He holds men strictly accountable for their actions ... God is unsentimental. It is very hard to get into God’s heavenly country club.
Santa Claus is another matter. He’s cute. He’s nonthreatening. He’s always cheerful. He may know who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, but he never does anything about it. He gives everyone everything they want without thought of a quid pro quo. Santa Claus is preferable to God in every way but one: There is no such thing as Santa Claus.
Why, you may ask, don’t the Democrats have to worry about the structural problem of a ballooning public sector and a declining private sector that must pay for it? It’s simple: Democrats engage in denial, and the media let them get away with it. President Barack Obama ignored his deficit commission and paid no price. The only time you will hear a Democrat declare that we cannot afford something is when it’s 1) a military expenditure or 2) a tax cut.
Do they deny the debt? Not in so many words. They pay it lip service and imply that increasing taxes on the top 2 percent of earners will solve the problem. So long as Republicans fight on this terrain — protecting the top earners from a tax rate increase — Democrats are handed a winning formula. Tax the rich guy — it doesn’t hurt me, and it represents some kind of cosmic justice.
The spending cuts Republicans favor are hardly more popular. A Pew poll in October found that 75 percent of respondents oppose cutting federal support for education, 61 percent oppose cutting funding for college loans (inflating that higher ed bubble even further), 57 percent reject asking Medicare beneficiaries to pay a larger percentage of their costs, 56 percent oppose gradually raising the age of Social Security eligibility and 50 percent oppose reducing programs that help low-income Americans. Fifty-eight percent, by contrast, favor limiting tax deductions for large corporations.
The fiscal cliff will come and go. It’s a no win for the Republican Party. Longer term, the next generation of Republican leaders will have to consider some radical, image-altering reforms. James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute recommends breaking up the big banks. It’s simultaneously a blow against the too-big-to-fail folly that helped create the financial crisis and a rebuke of the Obama administration’s embrace of crony capitalism in Dodd/Frank.
Someone, sometime soon, is going to have to level with the American people that they’ve been getting more government than they’ve been willing to pay for. The Republicans have called for spending cuts and seen their approval ratings sink. Maybe they should just leave the unpalatable task to Santa Claus.