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The Truth When It Hurts

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

What Barack Obama has going for him in 2012 is, well, put it this way: human nature.

Witness the French. Witness the Greeks.

Part of being human is wanting all you can get without paying any more for it than absolutely necessary. In the context of 21st century governance, this translates into a popular plaint heard throughout Europe and the United States: Namely, suffering is for the birds!

The French and the Greeks, worn out by government austerity measures intended to bring their resources more in line with their enormous debts, threw out their governments over the weekend. Sometimes sacrifice and renunciation just don't work; as, for instance, when they hurt. When that happens, the voters demand a new set of leaders with, maybe, a new set of policies.

The Socialists, in France, have new policies all right -- higher taxes on the wealthy, a higher minimum wage, earlier retirement for longtime manual workers, and the hiring of 60,000 more teachers. The Greeks, who dislike the idea of paying back money borrowed from foreigners, will try to cobble together new policies that make indebtedness more enjoyable without making it go away or something.

Anyway, enough pain, enough deprivation. On go the government benefits, with maybe some new ones thrown in, for a while longer. The French and the Greeks can think about it tomorrow or whenever.

The example of French and Greek voters turning on the responsible adults in their governing class won't be lost on the Obama White House, which would love nothing better than to blame the Republicans for the very thought of enforcing economic discipline.

Whack, whack, whack! -- that's the sound Democrats would encourage the electorate to imagine themselves hearing if the GOP should win; the lash of Republican wrath falling across the sore backs of the middle class. The mantra is depressingly familiar: Tax cuts for the 1 percent; Social Security and Medicare turned over to Wall Street interests; government programs slashed; government payrolls reduced.

Contrast this bleak picture with the one showing no distressing changes, whatsoever, if President Obama receives a new term. No sacrifice; no sorrow; everybody happy -- save, of course, the evil 1 percent. On with the party!

Only in wartime -- think red points, gasoline rationing and like appurtenances of the 1942-45 era -- do democratic governments get away with demanding (and enforcing) sacrifice. During peacetime, government sees its role not as taking but giving. Human nature, meaning the nature of voters, rewards a cheerful giver, showering benefits from above. This very natural state of mind makes it hard for government to resist, in the first place, demands for more or, in the second place, stem the flow of goodies.

Democratic politics succeeds best by the process called pampering. Pamper us; we love it. Those who do it are the ones we reward. On the other hand, take away the rewards and we grow surly, even when present or future economic problems can be attributed to a superfluity of rewards, e.g., unpaid for promises of benefits down the line. No wonder reform of Medicare and Medicaid -- both systems dependent on no-longer-functional promises -- never gets implemented.

The democratic reformer, for the sake of credibility, has to say, whoa, we can't afford all this. The moment he does, his political opponents rise in righteous wrath. Lies, lies! They insist. In the cotton candy skies of democratic America, no clouds approach, provided the Stand Pat Party (known locally as the Democrats) keeps power and the Evil Radicals (known as Republicans) are assigned to perdition.

Ye shall know the truth, the Good Book promises. But not (so the Obamacrats fire back) when the truth makes you feel bad and might -- heaven help! -- inspire a vote for the Romney ticket. Which isn't to say a stagnant job market and rising dismay over Washington, D.C.'s, ever-more-incredible economic promises will fail to give reform a crucial boost. It's to say -- sigh -- look at the French; look at the Greeks, and their capacity for fear and self-delusion; look; take it all in, and then batten down the hatches.


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