Some people can spot a slight in every compliment, whereas others -- the happy ones -- find a compliment in every slight. So last week, as a free-market, low-taxes, constitutional conservative, I happily found an apparently unintended compliment from the liberal New Republic.
It is not often that I agree with the central attack line of my sometimes media sparring partner, The New Republic's Ed Kilgore. But in his effort at a hit piece last week on Michele Bachmann and her stand for "constitutional conservatism," what he thinks is an effective attack on us constitutional conservatives, I take as a badge of honor.
Putting aside his reflexive accusations against us conservatives that we are secret segregationists (making that hoary false charge against conservatives has become an inherent part of the moral squalor of contemporary liberalism), his basic charge is that those of us who consider ourselves constitutional conservatives are really constitutional restorationists. What we really want, he charges, is the radical policy of returning to the pre-1930s view of the Constitution, i.e., a strict interpretation of the federal government's limited powers, the originist view of individual and property rights, and the removal of FDR's New Deal legislation. He also charges us with wanting to return to pre-Keynesian economic policies.
Well, yes. Guilty as charged, m'Lord. Mind you, it's not that I am against soundly financed social insurance mechanisms, which the Germans have more or less managed on an actuarially sound basis since the 1870s. It's just that when one combines such sensible legislation with the meat-eating instincts of American and European statist politicians and their duped voters, what evolves is what we have today -- both in the U.S. and in much of Europe -- an unaffordable, economy-eating, nation-destroying, self-immolation device.
Until a couple of years ago, I never expected actually to see a constitutional restoration. I assumed that America was on a slow, irreversible trek to the statist side. But the sheer incompetence (and, in some cases, mendacity) of the current crop of statist politicians in both the legislative and executive branches seems likely to bring on an economic crisis that will actually force Americans to decide between a constitutional restoration and a full embrace of statism.
When the current failing effort to fund our medical and retirement benefits programs creates an American bond crisis (Greece today, Spain, Portugal, Ireland? tomorrow, America probably soon), that will lead to actually running out of money to pay the promised benefits. When that avoidable crisis hits, I'm pretty sure the American people will throw over statism for restored constitutionally limited government. If we flop on the statist side, then the great American freedom experiment will be over.
The Washington power elite could avoid that stark choice if they would actually try to get our fiscal condition under control. But they have drifted into fantasyland. It is hard not to suspect that even the recent "big solution," a $4 trillion alleged reduction-in-deficit plan (rumored to be $1.3 trillion in taxes and $2.7 trillion in spending cuts), is utterly inadequate to the challenge.
First of all, it would be too small a reduction; we need to reduce deficits by at least $10 trillion in 10 years. Secondly, President Barack Obama talks about gaining that $4 trillion in the 12th out-year. That is another way of saying that such proposed spending cuts would mostly be backloaded to 2023 and 2024 -- three presidential administrations and six Congresses from now. That would constitute the world's longest can kick.
Meanwhile, the proposed tax increases -- which beguilingly are being described by their advocates as responsible, sensible and necessary -- are excessive and inadequate, as well as misrepresented. It's not just that raising tax revenues during an economic slowdown is violative of even Keynesian principles, which recommend both deficit spending and tax cuts during economic contractions. It's also that if the Bush tax rates were repealed for all couples with more than $250,000 of yearly income, it would yield only $700 billion over 10 years -- while the entitlement shortfalls will be about $10 trillion. (And that would include severely limiting mortgage interest deductions and charitable deductions.)
It is representative of the dysfunctions that arise when symbolism replaces policy calculation that the president recently has taken to calling for raising the taxes on corporate jets -- a provision of the tax code that the Democratic Congress passed in 2009 and this president signed into law, reasonably justified at the time as an effort to protect the more than 11,000 workers who were losing their jobs building corporate jets. Now, with unemployment again going up, that same policy, which once symbolized helping workers, is characterized as needed punishment for the plutocrats.
If the federal government really went after all those billionaires the Democrats snarl about and confiscated all the property of the country's 400 billionaires (down to their last set of cuff links and children's baseball mitts), it would yield only $1.3 trillion -- about five months' worth of federal spending.
This pantomime deficit-reduction process is evidence that those in charge have lost their mental grip on the true dimensions of the fiscal crisis. That means their economic grip and then their political grip will slip away soon -- followed, perhaps, by a restoration of liberty.