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 press lets them get away with it. President 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.