Paul Krugman thinks that the latest House Republican "Pledge to America" is nonsense, and I'm sure he's right. Nobel in hand, maybe not necessary in this case, he tells us that the GOP can't cut taxes, end budget deficits, and preserve Medicare, Social Security, and defense spending without otherwise abolishing the federal government.
This is low-hanging fruit, even if it might plant its seed and sprout in a few months. But what do Democrats have to offer in return, beyond the criticism?
Throughout my life, one nice thing about the GOP has always been its straightforward approach. Republicans want to cut taxes, cut most government programs, promote big business, and increase defense spending. I'm not sure where all the deficit reduction talk comes from. It might be some way to express their dislike for the federal government while also seeming responsible. Safe to say, actual deficit reduction has not been part of the program.
Try to come up with a similar list for Democrats. During the New Deal and the Great Society, Democrats deployed sweeping, aggressive federal action to confront major economic and social crises. I think those Democrats would have embraced the notion that during major crises government is the solution. Ever since Bill Clinton declared an end to the era of big government, I don't know that many Democrats would make that same case.
Once that argument is foreclosed to Democrats, they deprive themselves of the ability to offer a real alternative to the GOP. Obama tells us to band together. He acknowledges that times are tough. He reminds us that Bush got us into the mess and that we don't want to go back to the bad old days. And we get the notion of passing more stimulus, as if the only solution we could conceive of to our problems is for the government to put more cash out there.
But we don't get a program. We don't get a compelling name for what we're doing (slogans count, Obama seemed well aware of that on the campaign trail). We don't get a comprehensive series of laws, targeting all of the causes of this mess. And nothing we do is built around a theme, a powerful, unifying idea that explains what the government is going to do in the face of this crisis.
I'm sure people can give plenty of reasons why this hasn't happened. The political climate in Washington has changed. The country has shifted to the right. And on and on.
I know that's dismissive. I'm just not interested in talking about losing necessary battles we don't even have the courage to join.