At long last we see bipartisan agreement in Washington, with no rancor or wrangling. Catching our breath, we all look toward D.C. and hail the politicians on both sides of the aisle joining together for the working people of this great nation, for preserving the hopes and dreams of the children of America, for ... whatever other excessive rhetorical flourishes a politician might add. It is a moment that dewy-eyed commentators, professors, activists, community leaders, and talk-show callers have long dreamed of.
A starker object lesson in being careful what you wish for is hard to imagine.
What great consensus have they all reached — President George Bush, the Democratic leaders in Congress, and the Republicans in the minority? Essentially, that it really is their business to muck around in the economy, that they are the ones who control the economy and can be trusted to do so wisely.
The Democrats have been there all along, of course. The Republicans are late to the table, but pragmatically, the Democrats have made room. After all, this new consensus empowers them all at the expense of the governed, and elected officials cherish such power. Giving a man political power is like giving a one-year-old crayons; don't be surprised to find him using it in all the wrong places, making a totally unintelligible mess of things and being quite pleased with himself despite it all. (And when you see that smile, chances are he needs to be changed.)
To be sure, some debate between the parties still exists ... over which groups to give government goodies to.
Not only do politicians crave more power, but they recoil at admitting that some things are beyond their purview, Ninth and Tenth Amendments be torched. This year, for instance: What business was it of Congress what football games were exclusive to the NFL Network? Why were they hauling professional baseball players before them? What are they doing fooling with people's choices in light bulbs?
And it must be admitted, a general lack of economics education being operative, that many people expect politicians to have a plan for government intervening in the economy to ward off a slowdown. They would reject the man who said the best thing we in Washington could do is to stay out of it, because we'll only make things worse. Just so, some pagan societies turned to mystics to entice the gods to return Spring. Those ignorant of the greater cycles will always go with the guy with the best-sounding booga-booga.
Are media soothsayers murmuring about a possible recession? Well, unga buncombe, $150 billion economic stimulus plan! We give $600 to single man, $1,200 to couple, plus $300 for child! Not tax-payer, no problem! (But you too rich, sorry.)
How this is supposed to fix the economy is, gosh, magic. Either the money was already in the economy, confiscated from the productive sectors by the government to be given to the poor (to a straight-up Marxist redistributionist scheme termed a "tax rebate" so as not to fret conservatives), or it will be produced as if out of thin air.
The real mystery is why the Republicans went for it. The Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 are set to expire in 2010. This means that massive tax increases are coming in a couple of years if nothing is done. Why, in a time of economic uncertainty, during an election year no less, would the Republicans not make a campaign issue out of these impending tax increases?
The economy may seem wobbly now; how could it handle the shock of the unaverted tax increases? Even now, economic expectations are being adjusted downward according to their increasing likelihood. It certainly doesn't seem to be a favorable climate for defending tax increases.
Rather than acquiescing to the stimulus sophistries, the Republicans could have forced poll-watching Democrats to choose between possibly keeping their coveted tax increases or not angering voters. Their eager refusal to do so is vexing, to say the least.