Wednesday, April 6, 2011

You can't divorce politics from policy

Andrew Sullivan has a post up complaining that Obama and the Dems are going to use the Ryan proposal in campaigns instead of taking it seriously as a policy proposal and working on a negotiation or counter-proposal. Part of why Sullivan is disappointed with Obama and the Dems is that he believes reducing the deficit is very important for the immediate future. Thus neither side should be playing politics with this serious issue.

But as Matthew Yglesias points out, the deficit isn't that serious of an issue at this moment or in the immediate future. He likens it to the effects of climate change. Those effects won't become an immediate threat until a few decades down the road. Because the threat is so far off not many politicians take it seriously and have the will to do something about it now. In much the same way, the deficit is not an immediate threat. The country isn't going to "go broke" and inflation is still low while unemployment is still high.

Obviously there are things we should be spending less money on, two wars for instance. But the problem with the economy and our country is that there isn't enough money being spent and thus not enough people being hired. But unlike climate change the future problem of the deficit is being discussed as a significant threat at this moment and politicians are working to reduce it right now.

I think a big reason for that on the Republican side of things is that its an excuse for them to achieve some of their high priority policy agendas. The first being lower taxes for rich people. Ryan's plan is chalk full of even more tax cuts for rich people and corporations. The second big agenda is to get rid of, or at least scale back entitlement programs. While Sullivan views this plan purely in the realm of policy its obviously also about politics. He proposed the plan because its politically advantageous for him to do so. Its what his constituents and at least a small portion of his party want.

Much of Sullivan's distaste for the Democratic response to the proposal was a claim that Dems would use it to campaign on. Well, does Sullivan not think Republicans will do the same? Ryan and other Reps will most certainly campaign on the fact that they provided Obama and the Dems a plan to get things under control and because Obama and Dems hate America they didn't go along with it.

I agree with Sullivan that Dems should take this seriously from a policy perspective. But I don't think they should ignore the politics side of it. It would be bad to not take it seriously as policy. But it would be just about as bad to ignore the politics of this, have it hurt them in the next election, and as a result let the other party implement their policies. And despite what Sullivan thinks about the Ryan proposal, its not certain that what Reps would implement would solve the problems Sullivan wants solved. In fact, the past 30 years of Republican rule have only exacerbated the problems.

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