Don’t expect good leadership without good ‘followership’
The jostling over who is responsible for our unsustainable federal deficit disguises the real problem encompassing the greatest threat to the nation’s future.
As Matt Miller suggested in an op-ed piece published in the Washington Post, it is not the debt that is unsustainable –it’s our politics that we can no longer afford.
Democrats are fond of pointing out that the Bush Administration took office with a budget surplus only to leave town having added $4 trillion to the debt – a 70% increase in the federal debt during the Bush era. Republicans are equally pleased to direct your attention to the Obama budget that projects a staggering increase of $9 trillion more in debt over the next ten years.
While criticisms of the Bush record on debt and the projected future debt contemplated by the Obama Administration are both fair, the reality is that there is nothing we can do about the Bush legacy. It’s history. However, we can still do something about the future debt – but only if the politicians will stop using the issue as just another political football and get serious about fixing it.
Sadly, they won’t – unless we make it worth their while to do so. And we only do that by getting smart on what constitutes fixing a problem and force the pols to propose and debate real solutions versus blaming the problem on someone else.
Part of dealing with the issue is regaining some national equilibrium in terms of how we view the problem of the debt – beginning with accuracy in information. When politicians – seeking to cash in on populist discontent – deal in false information, they often succeed in personally benefitting from whipping up the masses. But, in the process, they are using the instant gratification of claiming a vote to punish generations of Americans to come.
But as we make the effort to become ‘good followers’, we must remember that we are all viewing the future from the particularly difficult period in which we find ourselves. While we’ve had good reason to be gloomy in our predictions, it does now appear that the economy is beginning to recover, and with that recovery will come increased revenues in the federal coffers. So, while we can continue to argue over whether or not it was necessary to incur large deficits while in the throes of the most serious recession since the Great Depression in order to keep the economy from sliding into something far more unacceptable, what’s done is done. Let’s not let the politicians continue to use this as an excuse not to face up to our deficits. While I, for one, find that the economists who appear to have less of a political axe to grind believe that the stimulus was necessary, I understand that others disagree. Either way, the good news is that job and business growth will begin to improve at some point, removing the need to continue the deficit to make up the gap. Let’s move on. There is no upside in continuing to be sucked into an argument when we are never going to have an answer. When the jobs come back, some will argue that stimulus was the right thing. Others will say the jobs would have returned faster had we done it different. And you and I will never really know.
Whether it is constantly reminding the GOP that “George Bush did it too” or buying into anti-stimulus arguments to hammer Obama when we will never really know if it was right or wrong, good followership demands that we not waste time on this nonsense and reward politicians for going forward, not sideways or backwards.
That said, one doesn’t have to be Chairman of the Fed to understand that continuing the current spending trends in both entitlements and the pursuit of the empire will lead the nation over the financial cliff.
So, what must we do?
We have to create a political environment where the self-interest of the politicians serves the shared interest we all have in reducing the debt. While both parties will tell you that each is fighting to accomplish just this, they are not – and we know it. Grandstanding stunts blocking unemployment benefits when we all know that the benefits will be extended once the politicians get to score their points, is not reducing debt. It’s increasing electability for politicians cashing in on anger. Why let them do that, whether they be Democrat or Republican? Why not tell them that we’re smarter than that?
On the entitlement front, nobody in their right mind can believe that we can continue the current social security arrangement while keeping Obama’s promise to never raise taxes on those who earn under $250,000 a year. The math just doesn’t add up. We either have to increase the tax or change the entitlement.
Yet, this is not something neither Republican nor Democrat candidates want to tell you.
So why not tell them that we get it, we’re tired of diversions and we are going to reward them based on what they do to fix it and not on their successes in blaming it all on the other guys?
There are solutions to Soc. Security. If it were up to me, I’d be trimming Social Security benefits granted to wealthy Americans who don’t really need it. But this scares the hell out of progressive, Democrats who don’t want to have to run on anything that includes the words “social security cuts.” Fine. But how about some real ideas?
It’s not just about social entitlements. At some point don’t we need the politicians to face up to the reality that we cannot continue our imperialistic aspirations abroad, stationing troops in countries that long ago stopped being relevant locations for permanent American troop bases?
Of course, GOP candidates, with the exception of Ron Paul, don’t want that conversation. They are terrified at looking weak on national security, a charge they fear would come if they supported pulling back on much of our antiquated national security expenditures.
The bottom line is that cutting the federal deficit makes for very bad politics. The reality of this is summed up nicely in the piece by Matt Miller referenced earlier.
“We refuse to risk our hold on power,” our leaders are essentially telling us, “by coming clean on our own about the tax increases and spending cuts we know are needed to pass a sound nation to our children.” Thus “political leadership” becomes an oxymoron. Odds are we’ll fix the budget once enough of us show our leaders it’s safe to do what needs to be done; think Perot getting 20 percent of the vote in 1992. But the price of having to wait for good “followership” instead of real leadership is high. For now, this price includes the reality that neither major party has a political strategy that includes solving our biggest problems. And that, more than our rising debt, is scary.
Via Washington Post
Miller has it exactly right. We only fix this when we, the voters, develop good “followership” and adopt a metric for judging politicians on what they are actually doing to reduce debt rather than the amount of mud they can sling at the other side. Until the public short circuits the personal power dramas our politicians act out on a daily basis, we will continue to be played by these people who care only for continuing their grasp on power- and the losers will be the generations to come.