Paul Jacob

But here was the genius of the system: The slight cuts in growth rates allowed left-leaning Democrats to hysterically decry the cruelty of the “cuts” that Reagan was “imposing” — courtesy of the accounting tricks allowed by the post-Nixon Budget Control Act — despite the illusory nature of those cuts.

Republican politicians, meanwhile, could go home to boast of those “cuts.”

Meanwhile, deficits ballooned under Ronald Reagan, and Republican voters came to accept deficit financing (growth in debt) as a natural thing, almost good. With the ascension of George W. Bush to the presidency, and a post-Clintonian reaction giving majorities in both houses to Republicans, this trend solidified.

So, that was the congressional comity Ackerman fondly remembers. Democrats and Republicans amiably working together to increase spending, winking at each other as they called slight downward adjustments to the general upward trend cuts, and in general “playing” politics as a collegial romp in which pretense is trump.

Thankfully, that great comity expired with the bailouts. Increasing numbers of America’s independents, Republicans, and even more than a few leaning leftward, began to see that the word “unsustainable” applied to federal budgets. And to state and local budgets, for that matter, though these were somewhat constrained by lacking a money supply spigot. (What mayor wouldn’t want his own pet Bernanke to extend 0 percent credit to the mayoral budget?)

With this new recognition of reality in place, things have gotten a bit touchy, haven’t they? Ackerman compares today’s messy struggle with yesteryear’s Golden Age, and finds a culprit: media.

I mean everything has changed. The media has changed. We now give broadcast licenses to philosophies instead of people. People get confused and think there is no difference between news and entertainment. People who project themselves as journalists on television don’t know the first thing about journalism. They are just there stirring up a hockey game.

In the land with an allegedly “free press” he carelessly talks of “broadcast licenses,” and by a careful turn of phrase makes the honest confession of principles sound somehow dirty.

And then there’s the upbraiding of journalists’ alleged lack of professionalism. Journalism has always been a business filled with ideologues, pretenders, hacks and scoundrels. But during the Golden Age of Ackerman’s senescent dreams, the business consolidated, marshaled generally to a left-center drumbeat and then took a cue from The Wizard of Oz and got diplomas. Bad days came, however, when talk radio blossomed, the Web opened everything up and challenged the fat cats in the catbird seats of the newspapers, Rupert Murdoch allowed a distinct voice to appear on Cable and satellite, and . . . Ackerman witnessed End Times.

But really, the apocalypse of today’s media free-for-all merely reveals the End Times of a narrow range of opinion, and of the compromise deals that politicians prefer, post- New Deal: Always in the direction of more government.

Mainly, we can be thankful, it’s End Times for Ackerman and his ilk. It’s time to take seriously sustainability in government . . . at least something a bit more principled than “comity” amongst rogues.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.