Framing the 2010 Campaigns (and Beyond)

E. J. Dionne’s column this morning presents an interesting framing for the midterm elections. Is the United States to retain its #1 position? And how is that to be done? Here’s how he positions the two primary political parties:

For Republicans, American power is rooted largely in military might and showing a tough and resolute face to the world. They would rely on tax cuts as the one and only spur to economic growth.

Obama, Biden and the Democrats, on the other hand, believe that American power depends ultimately on the American economy, and that government has an essential role to play in fostering the next generation of growth.

Note that there are weasel words in both formulations: “largely” and “ultimately”. I won’t carry any water for Republicans other than to note that “largely” is something that can be measured and, consequently, proven or disproven while “ultimately” can’t.

It may well be true that the Congressional Democrats believe that “American power depends ultimately on the American economy”. How could you arrive at that conclusion? The greater part of the increased spending that’s actually been approved rather than merely pontificated about has been spending on behalf of companies: auto companies, banks, and the construction companies that build roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects. If that’s how “the American economy” is defined, I will unquestioningly accept the proposition that the Democrat leadership believes what Mr. Dionne says they do.

However, I think a fairer proposition, more proximate and certainly more proportional to the amount of energy that has been expended in Congress, is that Congressional Democrats believe that American power depends on the American people and to that end they want to give them healthcare and more education.

Note, too, that both Mr. Dionne’s framing of the position of Republicans and my framing of that of Congressional Democrats depend on consumption rather than production. Which is where I part company from them both. As long as we emphasize consumption over production and speculation over economic fundamentals we’ll dig deeper into the same hole that we’re putting a new wing on right now.

3 comments… add one
  • steve Link

    The American people want more services and less taxes. Incompatible for the most part. These conflicting desires should produce a healthy debate between two fiscally responsible parties, fiscally responsible meaning that we balance income with spending. We should have a party that proposes more services with higher taxes. We should have a second party that works for lower taxes and fewer services.

    We have the first party. However, that second party has been promising lower taxes with more services. This is very appealing to voters. Our division in the media means that voters who want small government and lower taxes are told that is what they are getting, even if they are not.

    We also have sacred cows in our budgets. Everything needs to be on the table.


  • Andy Link


    At this point what I want is sustainable government. Each year that goes by I become less and less interested in the tired programmatic solutions offered by the two parties which increasingly seemed detached from reality. “Sustainable government” in my view is going to require fewer services along with higher taxes. I can understand my position is probably a political non-starter until the whole house of cards begins to collapse which is largely what feeds my cynicism.

  • steve Link

    Andy- I agree. We can have bigger government or less government. What we need is to pay for it, then it is sustainable. If we cannot or do not want to pay for it, then cut it or do not add it. No new programs without a way to pay for them or offsetting cuts.


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