The distinctive visions of the two parties — social-democratic versus limited-government — have underlain every debate on every issue since Barack Obama’s inauguration: the stimulus, the auto bailouts, health-care reform, financial regulation, deficit spending. Everything. The debt ceiling is but the latest focus of this fundamental divide.
The sausage-making may be unsightly, but the problem is not that Washington is broken, that ridiculous, ubiquitous cliché. The problem is that these two visions are in competition, and the definitive popular verdict has not yet been rendered. — Charles Krauthammer, National Review
As clearly as any issue you could name, the debate over the US debt ceiling exposes the radically different governing philosophies held by Democrats and Republicans. On the left it is taken as an article of faith that government must constantly grow and increase its sphere of influence as a counter to the power of private corporations, and to provide a constantly-growing safety net for Americans living at the margins. On the right it is taken as an article of faith that government must dramatically shrink in order to correct the decades-long diminution of personal liberty and the strangulation of free enterprise that threatens to undo all that is best about the American experiment.
At stake are the most cherished and bedrock beliefs of both sides. So how can there be any compromise? Either government continues to grow and our national indebtedness increases, a defeat for the right, or government growth is checked for the first time since the New Deal, a precedent that would be anathema to the left.
We have a divided government because we have a divided country. Government isn’t broken; it is merely the most public face of the radical philosophical differences that can be found in any Main Street café in America.
If we were debating abortion rights or NAFTA instead of indebtedness, each side would be equally entrenched, equally unwilling to compromise, because each side holds a mutually exclusive vision of what American values and American government should be.
This great legislative battle is exactly how a great debate should happen in this country, and is the exact consequence of electing representatives who take to Washington the viewpoints of their states and neighborhoods. The high stakes and dire consequences should the two sides fail to reach an agreement is entirely appropriate given the opposite views each side holds on the fundamental purpose of government.
Since FDR, American government has become the equivalent of Santa’s Christmas Village, where the elves are always busy manufacturing new gifts to hand out to the good little boys and girls. In America, every day is Christmas, and the money to run the growing gift assembly line keeps pouring in year after year in an ever-increasing flood, much of it borrowed from foreign sources or taken by means of an ever-increasing array of taxes, fees and assessments.
It is ironic that the left, which constantly nags us about our use of foreign oil, seems to have no compunctions about borrowing thousands of times more from foreign investors.
It’s high time we had this debate. Government spending and debt, government entitlements and the expectations of the American people have all grown to ginormous and unsustainable levels. The right is proposing nothing more than tapping the brakes a bit, raising a fury on the left at the prospect that the gravy train might be slowed down even the slightest. It’s a teaching moment for all of us.
This debate is an opportunity for clarity about fundamentals. Is Government to be limited, and if so when, and by how much? Or should Government be permitted to grow without restraint, and if so, where will the money come from to sustain it?
Whether the US defaults or not, what is finally passed by the two houses of Congress and signed by the President has the potential to set our country on a wholly new course. It’s a high stakes debate, to be sure, but one that is long overdue.