I’m afraid that columnist Thomas Friedman completely misunderstands the political fix we’re in. Here’s his version of the source of our problems:
We baby boomers in America and Western Europe were raised to believe there really was a Tooth Fairy, whose magic would allow conservatives to cut taxes without cutting services and liberals to expand services without raising taxes. The Tooth Fairy did it by printing money, by bogus accounting and by deluding us into thinking that by borrowing from China or Germany, or against our rising home values, or by creating exotic financial instruments to trade with each other, we were actually creating wealth.
The emphasis is mine. Would that it were so! If it were prudent conservatives could postpone tax cuts a bit and prudent liberals could restrain themselves from offering new services and we could live within our means. That doesn’t comport with the historical record.
The Tax Reform Bills of 1981 and 1986, the Reagan tax cuts that are the foundation of our present income tax system, both passed with broad bipartisan support. The primary sponsors of the reform act of 1986 were those notorious conservative Republicans Richard Gephardt and Bill Bennett. Social Security had bipartisan support. Medicare had bipartisan support. Conservative Republicans have leapt to the defense of Medicare as recently as the past year.
The bills that authorized our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, both notable drains on the public purse, garnered majorities of both parties in the Senate including such conservative figures as John Kerry and Hillary Clinton.
The problem is quite different. Politicians, seeking to hold onto their power forever, vote in ways that would be impossible if they voted for ideological reasons but are completely understandable when you recognize they’re voting for political reasons. That’s the source of our fiscal problems and it won’t be cured either by electing all conservative Republicans or all liberal Democrats or some mix of the two.
It can only be cured by electing representatives whose primary motivation isn’t continuing in power, something at least as mythical as the Tooth Fairy.