President Obama's campaign theme of ending politics as usual and creating a new bipartisanship that will get things done for the American people is about to be tested now that he has the power -- or at least some of the power -- to make it happen.
The president has commendably met with Republican congressional leaders during the early stages of his push for an economic "stimulus" plan, but now comes the hard part. There remain two distinct and possibly irreconcilable differences between traditional Republicans and traditional Democrats. Republicans once believed and encouraged doing for one's self and approaching government -- if at all -- as a last resort. Democrats see government as a first resource and people as an expanding pool of victims who are incapable of independently bettering their lives (and if they do, they are to be taxed to subsidize those who don't).
The Obama "stimulus" plan is a $1 trillion dollar gamble more suited to Las Vegas than Washington. It bets the economic vitality of future generations on the belief that money from Washington would jumpstart the economy. Generally, one jumpstarts a car when the battery is dead, but America's "batteries" (its people) are not dead. The vehicle has stalled because too much government meddling and loss of personal responsibility has flooded the engine. More meddling will not revive the U.S. economy anymore than holding down the accelerator on a flooded engine will start a car.
Republicans might enjoy more credibility when calling for individual responsibility had they behaved differently during the years they controlled Congress and/or the White House. There are initial signs they may again be finding their voice and embracing the beliefs that once brought them to power for the announced purpose of downsizing government and "upsizing" opportunity.
House Republican Leader John Boehner appeared on "Meet the Press" Sunday and said. "Government can't fix this. We can't borrow and spend our way back to prosperity. But what we can do is provide incentives to businesses and families to reinvest in our economy." This is classic Republican doctrine, but while President Obama has promised to consider GOP ideas, don't look for him to embrace this one. To do so would mean opposing his liberal congressional leadership, which wants increasing numbers of Americans dependent on government in order to maintain the party's hold on power.
Have you read the proposed stimulus plan (www.readthestimulus.org)? Because government intends to spend your money (now borrowed from foreign governments, but paid for later with higher taxes), you had better read it. Don't let the length (334 pages) deter you. Especially notice comments by other readers who know they must foot the bill.
Here are just four of many examples: $1 billion for the ultimate in community organizing to create "employment opportunities for low-income and unemployed persons." When the money runs out, if it ever does, will those people have real jobs in a business or service industry, or will they have government jobs that require more money in the future? A board to oversee the spending would get $14 million and $800 million would go to AMTRAK, which has not been able to sustain itself, despite $29 billion in government subsidies. There are millions included for contraceptives and the abortion industry, which are unrelated to job creation.
In last Sunday's Washington Post there was a picture of Pennsylvania Avenue in 1885. The stores and hotels in the picture no longer exist. They weren't bailed out. They closed or became something else.
We are experiencing economic difficulties because we thought we could live outside our means -- as individuals and government -- forever. We falsely believed that home values would constantly escalate along with our stock portfolios. More than a stimulus, we need the lessons that wrong decisions and failure bring. Let the house of cards collapse and let's start over with those economic principles that have worked for every generation that has embraced them.
SunTrust Bank is running a TV commercial that speaks of "solid foundations" and "helping you get and stay on solid ground." It speaks of back to basics and no more keeping up with the Joneses. That's the right attitude, not subsidies that encourage risky financial behavior.
We used to take care of each other. Returning to that ethic would do more than revive the economy. It would revive us.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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