The Washington Post

It's not about taxing and spending

I thought I would ring in the new year with a philosophical piece that might explain some of our current political acrimony. Please bear with me.

Today's differences between Republicans and Democrats might be more fundamental than just a disagreement over lower or higher levels of government spending and taxation. Competing visions of society are in play. This is deep, but I don't think the president and Republicans only differ on questions of fiscal and monetary policy. Republicans say we have budget problems that need to be solved now in order to restore economic growth, but perhaps the president believes he needs to lead the nation through a tough transition — one that we must endure to arrive at a better place. This would explain why we have not been able to reach a real agreement to get the country’s finances in order.

President Obama thinks he must transform society. Perhaps he believes the American Dream got out of whack. He believes there is too much greed and too much personal ambition. He thinks having low taxes and limited government creates an every-man-for-himself society that he sees as inherently unjust. Instead, Obama wants us to temper our ambitions and contribute more to the common good — and frankly, not try to be materially better off than our neighbors. Be happy with less.

If we have to endure some crude government budget realignment and personal lifestyle reconciliation for a few to help us get there, so be it. This would explain the president's intransigence and his single-minded goal of punitively raising taxes while not even pretending to want to cut government spending.

A new era of low growth, job losses and growing dependency is somehow desirable if it creates a society that the president sees as being more equal and fair. We aren't going to go from this to another era of traditional growth and prosperity; we are evolving into an economically flatter society of people who will work to support the government, as we simultaneously reduce development, building and most manufacturing because of perceived harm to the environment. So as we watch in frustration as our leaders debate the merits of this program or that, and as we hear the disagreements over which programs to cut vs. which to expand, it all might just be distracting us from what the fight is really about and what is really at stake.

Ed Rogers is a contributor to the PostPartisan blog, a political consultant and a veteran of the White House and several national campaigns. He is the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in 1991.


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