Sunday, December 2, 2012

Cliff Notes

When I was growing up, I had a good friend named Cliff. He was smart and funny, OK, corny, and a bit nerdy, but he had a good heart and I'm sure he's doing wonderful things with his life.

Meanwhile, his name is being dragged through the mud.

This Fiscal Cliff business is terrible for anyone named Cliff and it's even worse that it's hogging the headlines around the holidays with no end in sight. The media is absolutely breathless at the thought that on January 1...very little will happen. Yes, tax rates will go up and federal spending will go down, but it will take a few weeks or months for the real effect to take hold. Of course, the real impact will be on the stock market and on business spending because if there's no deal then they'll have to make serious decisions that could tilt us back into recession.

In the meantime, the political posturing is so bad a team of chiropractors is on 24-hour call on Pennsylvania Avenue. Maybe that stretch that has all of the homeless people sleeping under scaffolding. The president and John Boehner could do worse than to meet there just to remind themselves of what effects their actions have on the country.

What's obvious is that the Republican Party has learned very little from last month's election. It's clear that the public will blame the GOP if there is no deal because, unlike the far right, most Americans have a sense of fairness that says that wealthy people need to pay more and some social programs need to be cut because that's what we do when we have a problem in this country. We compromise. We talk to each other. We each contribute what we can to solve the issue.

The Republican establishment doesn't understand this and it's in President Obama's best interest to remind people on a daily basis that the failure will fall squarely on one political party. Grover Norquist's notorious no-tax pledge has always been a bad idea, and its effects on our system have resulted in a government that teeters between not being able to pay its bills and doing just enough with what it has to mess things up. Ronald Reagan famously said that government is the problem, then set us on a fiscal course that ensured a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Elections have consequences and fortunately, this year's results shifted the debate away from obstructionism and towards practical solutions. Unfortunately, political change take time. The Democrats didn't realize how much they had lost the message after 1984 and it took them at least 8 years to regroup and find the Clintonian third way. The Supreme Court robbed the country of a slow recovery from the excesses of the Gingrich revolution in 2000, and the hardened right was able to solidify its gains in 2010.

It could take until 2016 or even 2018 for the left to realize what this past election promised. Marriage equality, a path to citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants, a fairer tax code, universal health care and biting financial regulation will get pushed this term in the Congress, but real progress will be slow. The last clawing cuts of the Republican conservatives will draw blood for a while longer, to the detriment of society at large. Perhaps the next president, who will be a Democrat, can push these things over the finish line. History will remember and celebrate Barack Obama for setting the table.

So as another week dawns and we wonder what new twists the political debate will take, keep in mind that we are seeing the end of an era. It was an era of excess and stubbornness, with some necessary reforms, but ultimately as much a failed experiment of the right as the end of the 1970s was for the left. The fiscal cliff is but a symptom. The GOP will lose more than they gain because they have to if we are to move forward. My hope is with the future.

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