Sequester outlines discourse in modern politics

BY CONNOR BURNS ’13
Senior Staff

During the 1980s, the American people came to regard the Democratic Party as the establishment of amnesty, abortion, and acid. They valued ideology over good policy or political survival. The Democrats skewed far left of center of the rest of the American public allowing the GOP to dominate the government for three presidential elections. House Republicans today would do well to remember the lessons of excessive ideological tilt, especially in light of the sequestration which took effect Friday. Some in the House have hailed the automatic cuts throughout the federal government as the first hard step towards a balanced budget.

Others, like John Boehner, speaker of the House, have instead levied the blame squarely on President Obama’s
shoulders.

Bob Woodward, famous for breaking the Watergate scandal, published an op-ed substantiating this claim. After publication, Woodward claimed the White House attempted to intimidate him out of running the account, saying to Politico that he had been told he would “regret” running the story. A few hours later the White House released the entirety of a highly cordial email between Woodward and a high-ranking White House official. The email began and ended with an apology for the raising of voices earlier, and in the context of full message cannot possibly be construed as a threat, veiled or otherwise. In any event, Woodward helped to give conservatives political cover for the largest cutback in American government ever.

The entire episode represents the schizophrenic nature of modern American budget debates. The GOP at once blames Obama for the cuts because of their inherent political costs, and at the same time hails them as salvation from fiscal oblivion. Meanwhile, Obama never thought in a million years that the Republicans would acquiesce to something so brutal as eight percent reductions to the Pentagon (plus the rest of the government).

The alternative, however, was compromise: a mix of both revenue increases and spending cuts. What Obama described as a “balanced approach” on the campaign trail this fall has become a nonstarter to congressional Republicans. America is being run by some pragmatists, and by some people who want to drown it in a bathtub, or at least for it to be small enough if they wanted to. Modern American political difference is marked not by competing ideas over specific policies but of whether modern government should exist at all.

Time will tell the sequester’s toll on the American economy. The common wisdom says its pain will take time to be felt, but a slow-ticking clock is no clock at all anymore in Washington. The sequester may languish in effect for months, and it very well may never be rolled back at all. It would be interesting to get back to a style of politics that involves having policy debates rather than contests of attrition, but perhaps politics has always been this kind of game.

Questions? Email Connor at cburns@fandm.edu.

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