A traffic sign is seen near the US Capitol in Washington March 1, 2013. Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
So: the “sequester.” That too-clever-by-half notion, born of last year’s debt ceiling negotiations out of the White House’s presumption that, when faced with the horror of heedless, profligate, across-the-board budget cuts to all manner of popular government programs, the Republicans’ “fever would break”—remember that?—and the Loyal Opposition would somehow come to agree to a reasonable, “balanced” deficit reduction package. It all seemed so cut and dried in those palmy days, just a few months ago: who could possibly imagine a major American political party could possibly let such madness actually go into effect?
Um, me? I wonder how many folks within the White House, gaming out whether Republicans might not just call the bluff, bothered to consider the fact that an embrace of heedless, profligate, across-the-board budget cuts to all manner of popular government programs is a key component of hardcore conservative ideology. That, when Barry Goldwater proclaimed in his 1960 manifesto Conscience of a Conservative, “I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size …. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them …. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ ‘interests,’ I shall reply that I was informed that their main interest is liberty,” that Barry Goldwater—and the future millions for whom his sentiments became an ideological touchstone—meant what he said.
Did anyone in the White House notice how many conservatives, including ones in positions of governmental power, after Mitt Romney’s recorded back-room admission that he couldn’t get elected because 47 percent of the electorate is addicted to suckling on the federal teat, responded that what he said was absolutely correct? (Even if they admitted it was unfortunate a public unready to handle it had to hear it.) That conservatives, as an article of faith, see breaking the link between citizens and their government benefits as the only sure way to break the link between voters and the Democratic Party? And that severing that same link is also the best way way to restore the broken moral fabric of the nation? (Which is one explanation Republican governors use to defend their determination not to accept free federal money to qualify more of their poor citizens for Medicaid under Obamacare: They are saving their citizens from wicked dependency. Their other explanation is that Obama must necessarily be lying to them—but that will have to be the subject for another post).
And what could the White House have predicted conservatives would say to those who point out that pulling the rug out from under huge chunks of federal spending will spur a recession? They could have predicted that many would say exactly what they have said: that since it’s excessive federal spending that causes recessions, what’s wrong with cutting excessive federal spending?