Forging Backwards to a Grand Bargain
Note: nothing can be unsaid, so here it is: this is a parody. If you must, read the original here.
Forging Backwards to a Grand Bargain
THIS is not an easy time to be president, house minority leader, or liberal writer. We’re out of airspeed, altitude, and ideas. Our intellectual cupboard is bare, and the only thing we have in surplus is our own anger. Indeed, if our anger could be turned into oil, we’d provide energy independence today (even though we’d be opposed to using it on principle because we need more green jobs).
Alas, it’s just anger, and it’s weakening us — just like it did when Jimmy Carter governed this great land and we similarly sapped our own national vitality and precious bodily fluids. Sadly, we have underinvested in the sources of our strength — large government programs — over the last five decades, opting to borrow rather than save and invest. We chose massive borrowing and deficit spending, leaving us with a huge deleveraging challenge (let’s call the solution ‘inflation’), millions of mortgages under water (from the hurricanes and global warming) and the economy in high-speed reverse (when what we need is high-speed rail). The way ahead? Our political system, now more than ever, requires a bigger benevolent bureaucracy of good and wise knowledge to direct us.
I’ve been arguing that the only antidote to this debilitating situation is a Grand Bargain between the two parties of rationality — the left and the further left — one that provides phantom out-year cuts to spending and immediately raises additional tax revenues to get our fiscal house in order, while making short-term investments (the new code word for ‘spending’) in the sources of our strength: new schools and community colleges we don’t need; scientific research on global warming; much-needed bicycle and unicycle trails and paths; free bandwidth; high-speed rail, and; jobs for federal employees at airports, post offices, Amtrak terminals, and bus stations that can cushion this recession. While President Obama has talked generally about such a Grand Bargain, he has never put a detailed offer before the American people, choosing to wait for someone else to move so he can approve, criticize, veto, or vote present as needed.
Thursday night in his speech before Congress, President Obama finally rose to the Grand Bargain challenge in his normal brilliant, thoughtful, profound, credible, and substantive fashion.
The revenues that he is proposing to pay for his $447 billion plan — which he has promised to unveil on Sept. 19, after he learns how to work Excel — could even work in foreign countries like Ireland, Portugal, and Spain. Some enticing ideas — like payroll tax cuts — will be embraced by Republicans unless they see through the scheme. The president’s proposal to generate some new jobs with targeted investments in infrastructure and education — like modernizing 35,000 schools (40,000 would be too much) — can produce short- and long-term outcomes like greater deficits and a move towards Greece-like credit ratings and insolvency.
“After a painful and, for many, inexplicable delay, the administration is finally shifting from an ineffectual series of ad-hoc measures to an ineffectual, comprehensive, and enduring program,” commented Mohamed El-Erian, the chief executive of the bond manager, Pimco.
Will the G.O.P. compromise with the president, accepting his brilliant, worthy, and profound proposal in full?
If the G.O.P. thinks it can just obstruct Obama and hope that the economy tanks — thankfully, Obama was able to put just the right touches on the disastrous economy he inherited, bringing us back from the brink — it will be a mistake. I believe most Americans want the major elements of this and other, earlier Grand Bargains, such as free internet, free health insurance, and free mortgage bailouts, both in substance and in style. Americans want to see our politicians working together, acting collectively, and pursuing Obama’s vision of good government jobs for all and an economy based on goods and services no one ever has to pay for. Although I’m largely making my analysis up because I want Obama’s political survival, my sense is we misunderestimate how much the toxic political rancor in Washington today casts a pall over the whole economy.
Those who doubt my assessment might want to give a call to Howard Schultz, the C.E.O. of Starbucks (as if you could get through). Schultz got so fed up with Washington politics that he bought a full-page ad in this newspaper, urging Americans not to give political donations to incumbents of either political party until they show a real willingness to compromise and fix our mess. Inexplicably, Americans responded by telling Schultz to “Shut up and brew.”
Schultz told me, “I’ve been inundated with messages from people I’ve never met who tell me to quit wasting the shareholders money on the New York Times. And a person at Starbucks sent me an e-mail the other day with the Pledge of Allegiance and underlined was one word: ‘indivisible.’ The people in Washington should reread the Pledge of Allegiance and look up ‘indivisible.’ Another sent me a text saying ‘Have a nice day.’ A third clicked on “like” on my Facebook page. So as far as I’m concerned, these things are an affirmation of my grandstanding and American’s right to free government coffee, proudly served by Starbucks.”
President Obama has offered a brilliant, legitimate, constructive, useful, positive, and beneficial proposal to forge a Grand Bargain with Republicans. Several G.O.P. leaders indicated that they intend to look at it seriously before dismissing it. With Europe headed down the drain, China and the rest of the world needs America’s big government programs now more than ever.