Looking at Washington these days, one suspects that this is the way things will be for a long time to come. Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day (and all that), the massive tangle of dependencies, entitlements, political payoffs, and perpetual pork barrel schemes that is our national government cannot be either taken down or rebuilt along rational lines – if, indeed, it is possible at all – in much less than the 50 years it took to create it.
We’re in for a never-ending debt ceiling fight. The seeds were planted in 1964 when we were promised no more doctor bills if you lived long enough or didn’t make enough money. That, and scores of other goodies.
Or, perhaps it goes back even further. All the way to the passage of Social Security which was sold as “insurance” with all of us putting money away in our own accounts.
Now, of course, we learn there is no money. No accounts, either. Just a check from the government that depends, the president tells us, on the Treasury’s ability to borrow more money. Which is contingent.
Anyway, this is the new civics. A perpetual fight by people desperate to hang on to what they think of as their rightful share of the public pie. Arguments over who has too much or is compelled to get by on too little. Eventual and grudging acceptance of the dismal reality: It is too big to manage. We can’t even cut a few billion in farm subsidies. So events will work their will and political life will go on but not as before. It will be uglier and more desperate.
Unless, unless . . . we heed the words of Tom Friedman of the New York Times. (Pause here, to shout … Hurrah.)
Mr. Friedman has the answer. It is this simple, “two years ago”—though, presumably, there is still time . . .
Congress and the Obama administration would have collaborated on a series of hearings under the heading: “What world are we living in?” They would have included a broad range of business, education and technology leaders testifying about what are the major trends and opportunities that are expected to shape the job market for the next decade. Surely, the hyperconnecting of the world, the intensification of globalization and outsourcing, the challenges of energy and climate and the growing automation of the work space that is rapidly increasing productivity with fewer workers all would have figured prominently.
And there you have the answer. A commission of experts. How could none of the rest of us not seen it?
Perhaps because the rest of us lack Friedman’s ability to bore down into the core of the problem and understand its true nature. We toy with superficialities, while he deals in Big Truth.
The untutored and unsophisticated might wonder if the fingerprints of experts are not all over the corpse of what was once called “The Great Society.” Weren’t those government undertakings that are now so rapaciously devouring our wealth the creations of experts in the first place?
Pshaw, says Friedman. That’s Tea Party talk. It is, in fact the Tea Party that is standing in the way of the experts who would otherwise be our deliverance
It [the Tea Party] is so lacking in any aspiration for American greatness, so dominated by the narrowest visions for our country and so ignorant of the fact that it was not tax cuts that made America great but our unique public-private partnerships across the generations. If sane Republicans do not stand up to this Hezbollah faction in their midst, the Tea Party will take the G.O.P. on a suicide mission.
And there you have it. It is all the fault of a grassroots political movement that has been in existence, sort of, for maybe two years. If it would just do the decent thing and die, then the experts could do their magic and all would be well again.
Tom Friedman is read seriously by millions. Which is one more reason why things will not be getting better any time soon.
Geoffrey Norman, a widely published author, edits the website VermontTiger.com.