Thanks to demographics and ill-conceived entitlement programs, America is on a path to becoming a bankrupt European-style welfare state. We know how to fix this problem, but whether we make the necessary reforms depends on the heart and soul of the GOP.
Are Republicans a bunch of hard-right Tea Party types, salivating at the thought of reversing the welfare state and ushering a new ear of limited government?
Or are GOPers a bunch of political hacks who have decided the cesspool of Washington is really a hot tub and merely pretend to be fiscally conservative to appease the conservative base?
The answer is yes and yes.
More specifically, almost all politicians are some combination of these two descriptions. It’s almost like they have an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other.
They usually have some underlying principles, and they would like to do the right thing and make America a better place.
Yet they also want to get reelected and accumulate power, and this lures them into casting votes that they know are bad for the country.
Sometimes the devil has the most influence. During the Bush years, for instance, most Republicans on Capitol Hill went along with Bush’s bad proposals, such as the no-bureaucrat-left-behind education bill, the prescription drug entitlement, the corrupt farm bills, the pork-filled transportation bills, and the TARP bailout. The lawmakers will admit, especially in private, that those were bad votes, but they “went along to get along.”
Yet every so often the angel gets control. All Republicans, including the ones who were in office and doing the wrong thing during the Bush years, presumably are going to vote for Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget later this week, which would limit the growth of federal spending and fundamentally reform Medicare and Medicaid. And they’ll cast that vote even though they’ll get demagogued in 2012.
So what decides whether the angel or devil is in charge? I may not have learned much in my 25 years in Washington, but I think a key factor is that politicians are often willing to take political risks and do the right thing if they think there’s actually a chance of implementing good policy.
In other words, there is a chance of saving America. I think Republicans can be convinced to charge the machine gun nests of big government. But we need to create the right set of circumstances – and that means persuading them that the long-run policy benefits will offset the short-run political risks.