Pawlenty and Balanced Budget Amendment
I heartily agree with Bruce Bartlett's scathing description of Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposal for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution: it's phony, simplistic, ill-informed and cynical.
But my wife stopped me cold this morning with this question: "Ed, what if you were a Republican politician right now, running against a Democrat? What else would you come up with?"
My short answer: I got nothing.
Obviously, there are plausible conservative ideas about how to reduce the budget deficit, deal with entitlements, reform health care or regulate financial services.
But the Republican leadership has pandered to the base for so long that it has boxed itself in. Any hint of supporting tax increases will set off a civil war inside the party. Any real cooperation with Obama on health care, no matter how nuanced, would enhance his stature as a leader. Ditto for teaming up on laws to reduce greenhouse emissions, whether through cap-and-trade rules, a carbon tax or tougher emission regulations.
This paralysis isn't simply the result of old-fashioned money politics. The GOP depends heavily on business for financial contributions, but Democrats raise a lot of money from business too, especially from Wall Street.
The Republicans have marginalized themselves by clinging to simplistic anti-government sentiment (except on defense, homeland security and civil liberties). That sentiment plays well in many places, but sentiment doesn't solve problems -- of which the United States now has a great many.
If you're a Republican leader, trying to oust Democrats in 2010, what are you going to do? Alienate your dwindling base by being consistent? Help Obama by actually supporting "bipartisanship?" Be honest about the hard math of taxes and spending?
Of course not. If you are an ambitious GOP governor like Tim Pawlenty, you change the subject and call for a balanced-budget amendment. If you're in Congress, you rail against "bailouts'' and ignore the fact that they were launched by the Bush administration. You attack Obama for not getting unemployment down, but denounce his stimulus bill. And if you are one of seven particular GOP senators, you wail about high deficits but vote against the bill you yourself co-sponsored to create a bipartisan deficit-reduction commission.
It may not be pretty, but what else have you got?