Brooks, Cohen and Krugman

Bobo has produced another one of his glorious false equivalency columns.  In “The Next Four Years” he gurgles that it seems as though everything is in place for President Obama’s second term to be filled with more aggressive recriminations and bulldozing.  What false equivalency, you may ask?  Here you go:  “Just as Senator Mitch McConnell made defeating President Obama his main political objective, Democrats seem likely to make winning back the House their primary political objective.”  Oh, as a cherry on top of the sundae he moans about the end of the era of The Grand Bargain…  Mr. Cohen, in “The Blight of Return,” says Illusion and division sap the Palestinian national movement at a time when its West Bank achievements have laid the basis for statehood.  Prof. Krugman addresses “The Dwindling Deficit” and says the budget deficit isn’t our biggest problem. Not by a long shot. In fact, to a large degree, it’s mostly solved.  Here’s Bobo:

President Obama’s second inaugural comes at an interesting moment, what you might call the end of the era of the Grand Bargain. Throughout his first term, Democrats and Republicans didn’t achieve a Grand Bargain on spending and taxes, but there was a sense that history was moving in that direction.

The Simpson-Bowles commission sketched out a vision of what a Grand Bargain might look like. Obama and John Boehner tried to craft some semi-Grand Bargains. There was a lot of talk at think tanks of what the best combination of tax reform and entitlement reform might be.

The “fiscal-cliff” fiasco has persuaded many smart people that a Grand Bargain is not going to happen any time soon. A political class that botched the fiscal cliff so badly are not going to be capable of a gigantic deal on complex issues. It’s like going into a day care center and asking a bunch of infants to perform “Swan Lake.”

Polarization is too deep. Special interests are too strong. The negotiators are too rusty. Republicans are not going to give up their vision of a low-tax America. Democrats are not willing to change the current entitlement programs.

So as the president enters his second term, there has to be a new controlling narrative, a new strategy for how to spend the next four years.

As you know, I am an earnest, good-government type, so the strategy I’d prefer might be called Learning to Crawl. It would be based on the notion that you have to learn to crawl before you can run. So over the next four years, legislators should work on a series of realistic, incremental laws that would rebuild the habits of compromise, competence and trust.

We could do some education reform, expand visa laws to admit more high-skill workers, encourage responsible drilling for natural gas, maybe establish an infrastructure bank. Political leaders would erode partisan orthodoxies and get back into the habit of passing laws together. Then, down the road, their successors could do the big things.

I may be earnest, but I’m not an idiot. I know there is little chance that today’s partisan players are going to adopt this kind of incremental goo-goo approach. It’s more likely that today’s majority party is going to adopt a different strategy, which you might call Kill the Wounded. It’s more likely that today’s Democrats are going to tell themselves something like this:

“We live at a unique moment. Our opponents, the Republicans, are divided, confused and bleeding. This is not the time to allow them to rebuild their reputation with a series of modest accomplishments. This is the time to kick them when they are down, to win back the House and end the current version of the Republican Party.

“First, we change the narrative. The president ran in 2008 against Washington dysfunction, casting blame on both parties. Over the years, he has migrated to a different narrative: The Republicans are crazy. Washington could be working fine, but the Republicans are crazy.

“At every public appearance, the president should double-down on that theme. The Democratic base already believes it. The media is sympathetic. Independents could be persuaded.

“Then, wedge issues. The president should propose no new measures that might unite Republicans, the way health care did in the first term. Instead, he should raise a series of wedge issues meant to divide Southerners from Midwesterners, the Tea Party/Talk Radio base from the less ideological corporate and managerial class.

“He’s already started with a perfectly designed gun control package, inviting a long battle with the N.R.A. over background checks and magazine clips. That will divide the gun lobby from suburbanites. Then he can re-introduce Bush’s comprehensive immigration reform. That will divide the anti-immigration groups from the business groups (conventional wisdom underestimates how hard it is going to be for Republicans to back comprehensive reforms).

“Then he could invite a series of confrontations with Republicans over things like the debt ceiling — make them look like wackos willing to endanger the entire global economy. Along the way, he could highlight women’s issues, social mobility issues (student loans, community college funding) and pick fights on compassion issues, (hurricane relief) — promoting any small, popular spending programs that Republicans will oppose.

“Twice a month, Democrats should force Republicans to cast an awful vote: either offend mainstream supporters or risk a primary challenge from the right.”

Just as Senator Mitch McConnell made defeating President Obama his main political objective, Democrats seem likely to make winning back the House their primary political objective. Experts are divided on how plausible this is, but the G.O.P. is unpopular and the opportunity is there.

This isn’t the Washington I want to cover, but it’s the most likely one. How will Republicans respond to this onslaught? I have no idea.

They’ll double down on the batshit crazy, David.  That’s how they roll nowadays.  Sweet FSM, I really hope that Pierce dissects this one…  Here’s Mr. Cohen:

A couple of years ago I had an exchange with the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, that went like this:

“You’re working for a two-state solution?”


“And Hamas is not.”

“It is true.”

This fundamental issue, at the core of the division of the Palestinian national movement, endures. As John Kerry, President Obama’s nominee to become secretary of state, prepares for office and talk stirs for the umpteenth time of a push for Middle East peace, it is critical to confront the problem, whose dimensions have recently been underscored.

First there was Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader, and his awful speech on his first visit to Gaza last month. “Palestine is ours from the river to the sea and from the south to the north,” he declared. In other words, forget compromise on the 1967 lines with agreed land swaps: Annihilation of the state of Israel remains the goal.

Then there was Mohamed Morsi. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi, now the Egyptian president, was chief of the Brotherhood’s political arm. This week it emerged that in this role in 2010, he said: “We must never forget, brothers, to nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred for them: for Zionists, for Jews.” He called Zionists “bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs.” And he called for all Palestine to be freed.

Morsi’s vile anti-Semitic remarks are of a piece with the old blood libel: Jews with horns, Jews with tails, goats and devils defiling Christian women. And nursing children on hatred? Instilling hatred in the innocent is tantamount to instilling self-destruction.

And so it has been. When the United Nations called in 1947 for the partition of Mandate Palestine and the establishment of Jewish and Palestinian states, the proposed Palestinian state occupied about 42 percent of the territory. Arab armies went to war and lost. Today, with the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians stand to get about 22 percent of the land under any two-state peace. The annihilation ambition has been a recipe for Palestinian defeatism, victimhood and loss.

Wide swaths of the Palestinian leadership have drawn the lesson. The West Bank, under President Mahmoud Abbas and Fayyad, has seen dramatic change over the past several years. New policies — of nonviolence, responsible governance, elimination of militias, central control of security and economic growth — have been embraced to lay the groundwork of statehood, a state explicitly envisaged as existing side-by-side in peace and security with Israel.

The achievements in Ramallah have been widely lauded, including by the World Bank, but Israel has held back, one reason for its current isolation. Rather it has pursued West Bank settlements, to the dismay of Obama, who, according to a Bloomberg column by Jeffrey Goldberg, is convinced that, “Israel doesn’t know what its own best interests are.” The settlement expansion is indeed self-defeating. It precludes the two-state peace Israel needs to remain a democratic and Jewish state. But it is in line with the platform of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, which says that, “Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.”

Netanyahu may be returned to power in elections this month at the head of an even more right-wing coalition. The ambition to hold all the land is not the exclusive preserve of certain Palestinians. Extremes feed on each other; a majority in the middle is ready for a reasonable compromise that places the future above the past.

That, in part, is what the two-year-old Arab Spring has been about: the future over the past. However faltering (what revolutionary movement was ever smooth?), the awakening has been about overcoming an Arab culture of victimhood, conspiracy and paralysis in the name of agency, engagement and debate. The dinosaurs of the Palestinian movement, like Meshal, should take note.

Pursuit of all of the land, with its accompanying “right of return,” is a form of perennial victimhood, one that has spawned some 4.7 million Palestinian refugees, several times the number who were driven from their homes in the war of 1948. The right of return would be better named the blight of return. It is a damaging illusion that distracts from an achievable peace in the name of Palestinian children and grandchildren nursed on hope. There is the possibility of compensation, but there is in history no right of return. Ask the Greeks of Asia Minor, the Turks of Greece, the Germans of Danzig and Breslau (today Gdansk and Wroclaw) — and the Jews of the Arab world.

When I was in Cairo recently, I saw a senior Western official who meets regularly with President Morsi. She told me she has no doubt of his belief in Israel’s right to exist and the urgent need for a two-state peace. Power is responsibility; it can change people. The United States should test Morsi by pressing him hard to forge Palestinian unity in pragmatism. That would remove an Israeli excuse for oppression that tramples on the Jewish state’s own best interests.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

It’s hard to turn on your TV or read an editorial page these days without encountering someone declaring, with an air of great seriousness, that excessive spending and the resulting budget deficit is our biggest problem. Such declarations are rarely accompanied by any argument about why we should believe this; it’s supposed to be part of what everyone knows.

This is, however, a case in which what everyone knows just ain’t so. The budget deficit isn’t our biggest problem, by a long shot. Furthermore, it’s a problem that is already, to a large degree, solved. The medium-term budget outlook isn’t great, but it’s not terrible either — and the long-term outlook gets much more attention than it should.

It’s true that right now we have a large federal budget deficit. But that deficit is mainly the result of a depressed economy — and you’re actually supposed to run deficits in a depressed economy to help support overall demand. The deficit will come down as the economy recovers: Revenue will rise while some categories of spending, such as unemployment benefits, will fall. Indeed, that’s already happening. (And similar things are happening at the state and local levels — for example, California appears to be back in budget surplus.)

Still, will economic recovery be enough to stabilize the fiscal outlook? The answer is, pretty much.

Recently the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities took Congressional Budget Office projections for the next decade and updated them to take account of two major deficit-reduction actions: the spending cuts agreed to in 2011, amounting to almost $1.5 trillion over the next decade; and the roughly $600 billion in tax increases on the affluent agreed to at the beginning of this year. What the center finds is a budget outlook that, as I said, isn’t great but isn’t terrible: It projects that the ratio of debt to G.D.P., the standard measure of America’s debt position, will be only modestly higher in 2022 than it is now.

The center calls for another $1.4 trillion in deficit reduction, which would completely stabilize the debt ratio; President Obama has called for roughly the same amount. Even without such actions, however, the budget outlook for the next 10 years doesn’t look at all alarming.

Now, projections that run further into the future do suggest trouble, as an aging population and rising health care costs continue to push federal spending higher. But here’s a question you almost never see seriously addressed: Why, exactly, should we believe that it’s necessary, or even possible, to decide right now how we will eventually address the budget issues of the 2030s?

Consider, for example, the case of Social Security. There was a case for paying down debt before the baby boomers began to retire, making it easier to pay full benefits later. But George W. Bush squandered the Clinton surplus on tax cuts and wars, and that window has closed. At this point, “reform” proposals are all about things like raising the retirement age or changing the inflation adjustment, moves that would gradually reduce benefits relative to current law. What problem is this supposed to solve?

Well, it’s probable (although not certain) that, within two or three decades, the Social Security trust fund will be exhausted, leaving the system unable to pay the full benefits specified by current law. So the plan is to avoid cuts in future benefits by committing right now to … cuts in future benefits. Huh?

O.K., you can argue that the adjustment to an aging population would be smoother if we commit to a glide path of benefit cuts now. On the other hand, by moving too soon we might lock in benefit cuts that turn out not to have been necessary. And much the same logic applies to Medicare. So there’s a reasonable argument for leaving the question of how to deal with future problems up to future politicians.

The point is that the case for urgent action now to reduce spending decades in the future is far weaker than conventional rhetoric might lead you to suspect. And, no, it’s nothing like the case for urgent action on climate change.

So, no big problem in the medium term, no strong case for worrying now about long-run budget issues.

The deficit scolds dominating policy debate will, of course, fiercely resist any attempt to downgrade their favorite issue. They love living in an atmosphere of fiscal crisis: It lets them stroke their chins and sound serious, and it also provides an excuse for slashing social programs, which often seems to be their real objective.

But neither the current deficit nor projected future spending deserve to be anywhere near the top of our political agenda. It’s time to focus on other stuff — like the still-depressed state of the economy and the still-terrible problem of long-term unemployment.


One Response to “Brooks, Cohen and Krugman”

  1. Marvin Gardinia Says:

    Krugman has made a serious consideration of decoupling if u will the long term debt management system from the current tribulations of employment opportunities and their lack without taking on education and the military, banking and credit markets per se. It reminds me of Dr. Strangelove and that’s a good thing. The US and the Soviet Union ( before the changes made to labor law in Michigan and Wisconsin, South Carolina and wherever one doesn’t like your kind of meetings) decided war was inevitable at the rate we were going so to forestall it at least they’d start removing the quantities of nuclear war heads and instead of stock piling them they’d ship them to some far off corner of say Colorado or Nevada in our case and hope they don’t leach. Sounds funny. But we didn’t have a nuclear holocaust.

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