The Constitutional machinery of our government, I am pleased to report, is performing as designed. It is supposed to be hard — very difficult indeed — to cram major changes in substantive policy down the throats of the American people without open debate and a clear mandate. Highly motivated factions who hang together — such as the tea-partiers in the House — are supposed to be able to gum up the legislature. This is a feature, not a flaw. And with all of this going on, there has not been a more fascinating time in recent memory to be paying attention.
The interesting question is this: Why has the Federal government so far not been able to align the action it’s taking with “what’s true” (that fiscal stimulus is sorely needed now) — as described in the previous post? Four reasons, I think, in order of importance:
1. The correct policy response — additional fiscal stimulus — is counterintuitive. Larry Summers, in his recent interview with Ezra Klein, explains:
There are two ways to understand the backing away from Keynesian ideas. In the first speech I gave and almost every subsequent speech I gave, I included the sentence that “the central irony of financial crises is that they’re caused by too much borrowing, too much confidence and too much spending and they’re solved by more confidence, more borrowing and more spending.” That is profoundly counterintuitive. It makes it difficult to persuade people of the need for more fiscal policy. That’s one element.
The second element is that people see economic issues through moral frames and people think there’s an extent to which recessions are punishment for sins — mainly sins of excess — and you don’t expiate sins by binges. So there’s a kind of moral counterintuitiveness that has made it difficult for the public and for political figures to accept stimulus. [via the Washington Post.]
2. “The Left” — that is, liberals, progressives, and moderates recently estranged from the GOP (there are LOTS of them) — has been far too quiet since the healthcare debate. We have not been singing. We want this President to succeed. It’s difficult to say to him: “Mr. President, you are making a wrong turn. Not just a wrong turn, but one that will have the opposite effect of the one you intend. It will increase joblessness, prolong the recession, and cost you reelection.” It is my belief — and a thesis of this blog — that the deafening silence of liberals is depriving the President of information he needs to govern properly. In times like this when one extreme right-wing group — the “tea party” coalition of 60 House Republicans — is throwing its weight around to such a an extraordinary degree, it is particularly important that opposing views be well represented in the debate. Liberals must exercise their First Amendment rights to make the case for MORE STIMULUS NOW.
3. The media is much better at covering process than substance. Journalists dislike making substantive judgments on important but complex matters about which there is no clear consensus. Brad Delong’s blog takes errant reporters to task for this on a regular basis, as he did, for example, here, here, and here. But the media coverage by more garden-variety reporters will improve only after the left half of the spectrum starts singing. Then the media will report on that. That’s really all they can be expected to do.
4. The President is reading the midterm elections too negatively. He has over-corrected by a country mile. And, of course, the respectful silence of his Left is part of that also.